Trash Rules Everything Around Me

As New York City dumped its vast output of trash on Staten Island, Wu Tang sprang from that forgotten borough to wow the world

It is an entropic inevitability that the universe tends towards ever greater disorder. In New York City, one clear manifestation of this Second Law of Thermodynamics is our immense, constant production of “trash”. In the face of this tsunami of “waste”, our failure to maintain or develop closed-loop systems means we are then confronted with the challenge of disposing of all this “garbage”, the subject of this post.

(I’ll refrain from air-quoting throughout, but for an exploration of “mass terms” like “trash”, “waste”, “garbage”, and “sewage” – which might shed light on my choice to air-quote – read here. I’ll address “sewage” in a future newsletter, but it’s interesting to note that for approximately the first 200 years of the City’s post-colonization history, “human waste” was seen as a resource (that is, fertilizer) – for which there was, at times, an active and lucrative market – rather than as a toxic liability.)

Coming more to the point, New York produces more than 14 million tons (so approaching 30 billion pounds) of trash each year. This Guardian article does a nice job briefly summarizing the history and current state of waste management in NYC. Key points include that the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) – with more 10,000 employees, more than 2,000 trucks (the Guardian underquotes here, probably for failure to include the entire fleet), and an annual budget approaching $2 billion – handles only a quarter of NYC’s total trash output, while fleets of lightly-regulated and often-poorly-maintained trucks from ~250 private carting companies – with historically strong, if now somewhat attenuated, mob ties, and which put ~4,000 more trucks on the roads – collect the remainder.

Basic breakdown is that DSNY collects waste from private residential units/structures, NYCHA buildings, and NYC public schools (in addition to making limited special collections, for example, for certain licensed professionals), while private carters handle all other commercial waste. As those who run businesses in NYC know, it is, in fact, City law that all commercial establishments must have a contract with a private carting company. Still – although the Guardian article hints at this fact – the amount of properly commercial waste is roughly equivalent to residential output, while nearly half of the total waste produced in the City can be attributed to construction and demolition; only by rolling all non-DSNY-collected waste into a single stream do we get the 75% figure the Guardian quotes. For clarity and simplicity then, we might think of the City’s overall waste stream as being constituted of approximately one-quarter residential waste, another quarter commercial, and fully one-half construction and demolition.

(For a deeper look into the murky, often-deadly world of NYC’s private carting companies, please read Kiera Feldman’s excellent reportage here, here, and here to which I’ve linked in the past.)

In 2014, NYC set the ambitious goal of being Zero Waste by 2030 (you may have seen the increasingly ubiquitous reusable orange 0x30 bags around town). Unfortunately, right now, the City is much more than zero waste. In fact, we capture less than half of our recyclable material (which, again for simplicity, constitutes roughly one-third of the City’s total waste stream) and, as yet, a risibly small percentage of our organic waste – which constitutes roughly another third – although admirable plans are afoot to dramatically scale-up the City’s composting program, in partnership with inspiring non-profit partners like the Lower East Side Ecology Center, GrowNYC, Earth Matter, Big Reuse, and most, if not all, of the City’s Botanical Gardens.

That leaves a final third of trash – that is, non-recyclable, non-compostable material – that, at present, we lack capacity to divert from landfills/incinerators even in a best-case scenario. Back of the envelope math suggests that fully 80% of the City’s solid waste is thus ending up landfilled or incinerated.

(Here‘s a breakdown of the national waste statistics which show a little more than half going to landfills, around a quarter to recycling facilities, another eighth to “waste-to-energy plants”, and the remainder – less than 10% – being composted. These numbers are comparable to – but significantly better than – ours locally. You may also want to have a look at the source from which the former data was drawn, which offers a number of helpful charts, the overall gist of which is that both recycling rates and overall waste production have risen dramatically in recent decades.)

In an NYC context, where does all this waste go, though? Historically, the City’s waste has been thrown in the streets, used to fill in so-called water lots (as well as in massive infilling projects more broadly, which have substantially expanded the area of the five boroughs and encroached extensively on wetlands, shoreline habitat, etc.), ended up in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “valley of ashes” (formerly, Flushing Meadows, today, Robert Moses’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park), been dumped into the ocean, been incinerated (a major contributor to morbidity and mortality among City residents in those days), and, between 1947 and 2001, ended up in the now-closed Fresh Kills Landfill, which is currently in the long, slow process of being transformed into New York City’s second largest park.

(Incidentally, one can glimpse the distinctive grassy-mound look of capped landfills in Jamaica Bay – where the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue Landfills once stood – and in Pelham Bay Park, and I suspect there are other now-capped landfills hiding in plain sight around the City; for a more comprehensive, though still brief, history of solid waste management in NYC, have a look at this timeline.)

Today, our municipal solid waste is delivered by truck to ~60 waste transfer stations around the City from which it passes to barges, railcars, and yet more trucks on its way to the aforementioned landfills and incinerators/waste-to-energy plants in Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and perhaps other states (it’s, in fact, a bit hard to find conclusive information on where-all the waste is going) at a total cost to the City of more than $300 million per year and rising.

(This interesting, if dated, site offers a look at a few potential NYC waste paths, while this explainer video from the New York Times provides a characteristically synoptic perspective on NYC’s waste management challenge.)

As for the recyclables that do, in fact, get recycled, most of the paper products are sent to the Pratt Industries facility in the vicinity of Fresh Kills on the semi-industrial west side of Staten Island, while the vast majority of mixed glass, metal, plastic, and cartons goes to the Sims Materials Recovery Facility in Sunset Park (which offers frequent public tours, led by the friendly and knowledgable, Sam. Take one already!). Sims has an additional facility in Jersey City which receives material from DSNY, as well as from private haulers and municipalities in New Jersey; if I’m not mistaken, this facility was the primary recipient of NYC’s recyclables before the opening of the Sunset Park facility in late 2013. Worth noting that in all of these cases, the City pays tipping fees to these private contractors to process its recycling, though the financial picture is complicated by the fact that, at least in the case of Sims, the contract in question stipulates profit-sharing with the City beyond a certain threshold – according to Sam, reached for the first time since the opening of the Sunset Park facility relatively recently.

(A note for the urban waste spotter, should you catch sight of what appears to be a garbage barge on one of NYC’s many waterways, it is very likely bound for one of the Sims sites, as waste that has passed through a transfer station and is bound Up/out-of-state generally seems to be compacted and containerized first while recyclables travel on open barges to Jersey City or, more probably, to Sunset Park to be unloaded on the facility’s expansive tipping floor.)

Unfortunately, although I feel we’ve only scratched the surface here – for example, we haven’t even touched on the climate impact of the waste itself, let alone the millions of annual truck trips, the methane off-gassing from landfills, etc. or on the environmental justice ramifications of the inequitable concentration of waste transfer stations in certain areas/neighborhoods – alas, I’ve run out of time for this month, so will have to leave it at that for now. Given how resource-rich this post is already, I’m skipping the What I’m Reading section this month, and will just tell you a little bit about…

What I’m Doing

First and foremost, settling into a new school year with my students while also diving back into writing fiction, but I also:

  • Joined Clarinda Mac Low for the second annual Sunk Shore tour.
  • Checked out multiple of Justin Brice Guariglia’s Climate Signals currently up across the five boroughs.
  • Attended – and was deeply disappointed by the corporatism of – the launch party for The Climate Museum (like, I have friends at Goldman, too, but I’m not trying to pretend that the firm is a climate champion).
  • Joined NYC H20 for another tour, this one of the Ridgewood Reservoir, and for a cleanup of beautiful Plumb Beach.
  • Joined for another of the Social Justice Tours, this one regarding gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn.


Still confused sometimes about what to recycle and how? You’re not alone. Consider bookmarking DSNY’s handy and straightforward What to Recycle page and looking into SAFE Disposal Events around the City (for so-called household hazardous waste), as well as the City’s Electronic Disposal Information site and the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s affiliated E-Waste Collection Events, which happen around the City throughout the year.

And if you haven’t yet taken note of DSNY’s tremendous brutalist masterpiece on Canal Street at the Westside Highway, please do go have a look!


Islands Unto Themselves?

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Sadly, a string of submerged mines will not protect New York from rising sea levels

With the exception of the Bronx, New York is a city of islands. Three in particular. One that may be the most famous in the world. But dozens of extant islands, and no doubt hundreds of former that have succumbed – over nearly four centuries of European colonization – to the ceaseless human remaking of this place.

Even the Bronx has its islands, in fact. City Island, far to the north, still has something of the feel to it of the fishing village it once was. North Brother – once a quarantine site, upon which the ruins of an old hospital are still visible today – has refreshingly been converted into a bird sanctuary, and South Brother – site of the city’s first dump – is likewise now uninhabited, while a short distance from the Brothers, across the tidal straight known as the East River, is located the infamous penal colony, Riker’s Island, a monument to our inhumanity – cage, on average, to approximately 10,000 people – over which, every day, pass hundreds of commercial airliners arriving at and departing from much-maligned LaGuardia Airport.

Manhattan’s islands are generally more well-known, if their histories – Ward’s and Randall’s Islands, joined by landfill; U Thant Island, artificial relic of subway tunnel construction, and now home to a small colony of double-crested cormorants; Liberty Island, formerly Bedloe’s, one-time home to a United States Army fort, the remains of which still frame, fittingly, the base of the Statue of Liberty – remain, in many cases, obscure.

Coney Island is no longer an island, but was once multiple, while the number of islands in the still-vast Jamaica Bay – although drastically reduced through dumping and infilling, hardening of shorelines, and, in particular, the massive construction, first of Floyd Bennett Field (once site of Barren Island, and multiple smaller), and later, of Idlewild, now JFK – is still such to inspire wonder.

Bitterly, ironically, if not surprisingly, the flooding from Hurricane Sandy largely mapped to areas of infill and encroachment on wetlands and water. Now, these same areas are epicenters of a building boom. (For an excellent, accessible ecological history of Greater New York – including extensive exploration of the “process of making land out of water” – I recommend Ted Steinberg’s Gotham Unbound.) And yet, when water isn’t flooding our streets or lapping at our doors, it is easy to forget how intimately this city (and metropolitan statistical area) is tied to its rivers and ocean. In fact, it is easy enough not to realize in the first place (as I didn’t until recently) that no less then seven rivers feed into New York Harbor and Long Island Sound in the Greater New York City Area.

I reject the self-serving corporatism of the Regional Plan Association; nonetheless, I believe it is essential that we eschew chauvinisms – at the level of the neighborhood, the borough, even the city – to grasp how fundamentally interconnected are all of our lives across the region, and indeed, around the world.

Still, to the resident of the South Bronx, whose grandparents came north to Harlem during the Great Migration; whose parents moved to Morrisania looking for better schools and to escape the slums; who witnessed as a child the destruction wrought by Robert Moses’s “urban renewal” and came of age during the savage era of “benign neglect” and “planned shrinkage” which followed New York City’s 1970s fiscal crisis; whose children faced criminalization, mass incarceration, and exclusion even as the City reemerged as the dynamo of the new, financialized, neoliberal American economy; and whose grandchildren now attend under-funded public schools, breathe the City’s worst air, and drink the City’s worst water, right next door to the Hunts Point Distribution Center that provides much of the City’s food; to the Major Deegan, the Sheridan, or the Bruckner, or for that matter, the MetroNorth corridors that carry wealthy commuters from Westchester into Manhattan; to the waste transfer stations that handle a disproportionate amount of the City’s vast flow of “trash” – to such a resident of the South Bronx – whose communities have suffered staggering transgenerational infra/structural violence and environmental racism – talk of interconnectedness may sound like so much more of the hot air already in the process of choking us.

It is against the subjectivities of people in the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn, and Southeastern Queens that efforts towards building a just, sustainable, and ecologically-sane future for New York City must be measured, as against the consciousnesses of those calling for decolonization of land and institutions here in one of the hearts of global capitalism. My ancestors came to New York themselves fleeing ecological and human catastrophes (the Potato Famine, World War I), but harnessing the desperation of immigrants has always been part of the logic, structure, and strategy of settler colonialism, and the fact of my forebears desperation little changes the hard realities of our shared present. Yet, as a person who has made my life in New York, and loves this City in spite of all its – and my own – contradictions and shortcomings, I fear for our collective future in the face of the all-but-unthinkable, and yet increasingly imaginable.

In many ways, the City Government is doing a remarkable job – especially since Sandy and under Mayor de Blasio – in improving its “climate readiness”, and yet, sadly, its actions remain insufficient; in fact, they fall far short of the truly necessary level of urgency, both in view of our already dire situation, but even more, given that, globally, there are few signs yet of truly concerted action being taken to end fossil fuel consumption, convert to a fully renewable economy, and, in the process, build a just and sustainable future. No amount of “resilience” can protect us if global average temperatures increase by six degrees Celsius.

There are no easy answers. But one starting point is committing ourselves to understanding where we really live; yes, in “the greatest city on Earth” (or its metro region), but more to the point, on a collection of islands and peninsulas. On land, much of which was once wetlands and tidal marshes (and which was taken by force and through massacres, not purchased with trinkets). In a beautiful, still-ecologically-remarkable, but damaged, fragile, and extremely vulnerable set of intersecting and overlapping ecosystems and built human environments – a place, today, at once of unique world-historical significance, and yet also emblematic of the threats that menace many of the megacities which constitute key nodes of the contemporary networked world order.

On the advice of my partner, going forward (and into the coming US school-year, given that my own work follows an academic calendar), I plan to devote these monthly newsletters to explorations of particular issues/topics related to Greater New York – think the infrastructure that ensures the safety and reliability of our water supply, our wastewater treatment facilities, the elaborate systems and infrastructures of “waste” management without which our streets would quickly begin to pile high with refuse – with the certainty that, at very least, I should learn a lot; the hope that, in the process, some of my fellow New Yorkers will as well; and the ambition that readers beyond the region (and outside the United States) may find inspiration in the approach, even if not always so much relevance in the details.

It’s been my experience that we – in New York, as in most of the rich places in the rich/core capitalist countries, at least those of us here who are not among the growing number of homeless and hungry – largely take for granted our water, food, and electrical supplies, until the tap runs dry, the shelves are empty, and the lights are out. Rather than wait for future disasters to teach us further hard and traumatic lessons, I think it’s time we confront our complacency and begin to plumb the depths and immediacy of our vulnerability.

What I’m Doing

I’ve supported my partner in a worthy undertaking and continued trying to make the most of the summer:

  • Love Child has partnered with our friends at PowerMarket to offer an incentive for New Yorkers to sign up for community solar. Long story short, PowerMarket partners with ConEd and a number of renewable energy projects across the region to offer (~10%) discounted electricity to ConEd users while feeding renewably-generated electricity into the grid. We have already subscribed – both at home and at Love Child – as part of the South Bronx Solar Garden (live as of this week), and I encourage you to consider moving your residential and commercial electricity bills over to a community solar project. In the process, you should save money; it’s free and easy to sign up; and you’ll be supporting the installation of more renewable energy generation capacity in New York. If you use this link to register (or the code LoveChildYoga), you’ll get a $50 gift card and we’ll know you came to community solar through us; if you’re interested, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, and I’ll be happy to put you directly in touch with Travis at PowerMarket.
  • I attended a public meeting held by the Army Corps of Engineers regarding their multiple proposed potential plans for storm surge barriers in and around New York Harbor. The most extreme of these would entail building a massive barrier across the entire mouth of Lower New York Harbor, from Sandy Hook in New Jersey to Breezy Point in Queens. Critics, such as the organization Riverkeeper, have called that plan in particular a “threat to the very life of the Hudson & Harbor.” I encourage you to get informed about these potential developments (helpful video, fact sheet, and resources here), and give your comments to the Army Corps before the public comment period closes on September 20th. Although I’m opposed to almost all of the plans proposed by the Army Corps, the threat to our more than 500 miles of coast/shoreline is an urgent and very real one, and I’m happy to see public and governmental concern and awareness growing.
  • I visited multiple sites in the Gateway National Recreation Area, including the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and historic Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. The Wildlife Refuge is a welcome reminder of the rich ecology of New York City and the wide variety of non-human species that continue to live in or pass through the region, while Fort Wadsworth – in addition to offering some truly spectacular views, including the one captured above – offers insight into the geopolitical and military history of the City. An immense infrastructure of now-totally-obsolete coastal defense, built up over a matter of centuries, remains hidden in plain sight around the City. In Brooklyn, across from Fort Wadsworth, Fort Hamilton remains an active Army base, while Fort Lafayette – constructed on Hendrick’s Reef, another of New York’s now-vanished islands – was demolished in 1960 to make way for one of the towers of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Fort Tilden and Fort Hancock frame the mouth of the Lower Harbor; Castles Clinton and Williams remain in the Upper Harbor; and Forts Schuyler and Totten once guarded the approach to Manhattan via Long Island Sound in the vicinity of today’s Throgs Neck Bridge. Aerial warfare and long range missiles had already relegated even the most advanced of the coastal forts to irrelevance by the time nuclear weapons solidified it, but in considering these relics of strategic/maritime history, we get a glimpse into the forces that shaped New York and the centrality to this city of the waters that now, in the era of global climate disruption, harbor a new sort of menace.
  • I joined the infectiously-sewer-loving Steve Duncan on an NYC H2O tour. Spoiler: If you go on a tour, you’ll get to look under a lot of manhole covers. No actual infections should result.
  • I checked out the exhibitions at the Center for Architecture on “Designing Waste” and the Fourth Regional Plan. Both worth the time in my opinion.
  • I’ve tried to go to the beach as much as possible, which has been nice.

What I’ve Been Reading

Already running a bit long this week, so offering here a few books, and one long article, plus a rejoinder to it:

Fear City – Kim Philipps-Fein’s excellent analysis (and dramatic recounting) of New York City’s fiscal crisis.

Reclaiming Gotham – Juan Gonzalez’s illuminating take on the accomplishments (and failures) of the de Blasio administration and the broader urban progressive movement in the United States.

The Slums of Aspen – credit to Zero Waste Habesha for this rec (via Insta that is) – only just starting this book – subtitled “Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden” – myself, but already very into it.

Losing Earth & Capitalism Killed our Climate Momentum… – Nathaniel Rich’s (very long and highly white-male-technocrat-centric) look at the emergence and failure of high-level negotiations around climate disruption in the 1980s, and Naomi Klein’s necessary critique, in the Intercept, of Rich’s high-profile New York Times Magazine piece.


A huge thank you to the good folx at Culturework for featuring Climate / Change this month! Honored to be included. Please do check them out (and subscribe to my newsletter while you’re at it if you enjoyed this piece).

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Ugly glass building is still there, but the rhino sculpture is now gone

It’s after midnight; we’re walking home from a jazz club; and our street – bathed, from atop historic lamp posts, in too-bright LED light – is abuzz with a haunting symphony of AC units.

It’s midday in the Village, and on block after block, cars are idling with people inside them – eating, writing, listening, sleeping, talking to each other or on their cellular phones – but most of all, seeking shelter from the heat.

It’s late afternoon and as I approach Astor Place, still on foot, I witness yet another stranger dumping bottled water over own head. When I reach the searing brightness at the corner – the Cube, Cooper Union, the hideous tower where Watson “lives” – I’m struck by the absence of The Last Three; the sculpture (of the last three northern white rhinos) has disappeared, gone the way that one of the rhinos already has and the other two – the species with them – soon will.

Taking shelter in the shadow of that monstrosity – home to IBM, a Carlyle Group subsidiary, others – as I wait for the 3rd Avenue light to change, I take my phone from my bag – late to meet someone; messaging I’ll be there soon – only to discover an email from a friend in Toronto who’s been working diligently in recent years to sponsor and support Syrian refugees as they “come to Canada and start a new life”; for a moment, I’m overwhelmed and feel I might begin to weep on the corner in the shade.

There is so much wrong. Sometimes one has to cry.

In his brilliant new book, The Progress of This Storm, Andreas Malm writes of pretrauma – the feeling (often channeled in pop culture and the mass media) associated with the disquieting knowledge that we are almost certainly rapidly speeding ever deeper into an era of chaos, catastrophe, and breakdown, an era which Malm aptly names “the warming condition.” I have reflected of late myself on this problem of naming; a keen interlocutor pointed out – in view of my use of the term “climate breakdown” – that it is not so much climate that is breaking down, only one instantiation of it, and he was absolutely right. Climate persists, and odds are that a new climate steady-state will be reconstituted, even if millennia from now and one far less hospitable to human life; it is only from a human standpoint that one can really speak of breakdown and imminent collapse.

Such may be my thoughts at the corner as I gather myself, put my phone away. The need for urgent, drastic action could not be clearer – news of heat records being broken globally marred the holiday festivities in the United States, or should have – and yet here we are – city- and world-wide – idling, dumping bottled water on steaming pavement, running AC day and night.

And who can blame us? It’s hot.

Only that it stands to get hotter, and we may yet live to blame ourselves.

What I’m Doing

Given that my previous newsletter went out less than a week ago, I’ll keep this brief:

  • I gave a private talk on climate issues to a handful of people of varying political dispositions and levels of concern about climate disruption. There is a chance that I’ll record a version of the same remarks to share online.
  • I’m attempting to have a #PlasticFreeJuly. I encourage you to do this same.
  • I’m urging friends – in the form of this newsletter and otherwise – to get serious about adjusting to our new climate normal; we could learn from a Japanese initiative. To quote Wikipedia: “Cool Biz… is a Japanese campaign initiated by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment from summer 2005 as a means to help reduce Japanese electricity consumption by limiting the use of air conditioning. This was enabled by changing the standard office air conditioner temperature to 28 °C (or about 82 °F) and introducing a liberal summer dress code in the bureaucracy of the Japanese government so staff could work in the warmer temperature. The campaign then spread to the private sector.” Post-Fukushima, these efforts were ramped up further (think khaki shorts and “Hawaiian” shirts at Goldman Sachs) under the name Super Cool Biz. We need a Cool Biz and a Super Cool Biz campaign of our own here in New York, the world’s most wasteful megacity. No more thermostats set to 65 degrees Fahrenheit while some people arrive at work, in the heat of the summer, in full suits, and others shiver and keep a sweater at their desk. Like it or not, we need to get used to the heat; get to work on ending our reliance on fossil fuels in a matter of decades; and in the meantime, stop making the climate problem worse as we seek to avoid its already unfolding consequences. In the meantime, by reducing our energy consumption here in NYC, we might also eliminate the need for the immense network of fracked gas infrastructure currently being installed – owing to our excess – across Upstate New York.
  • I joined the Climate Working Group of the DSA, and look forward to getting more involved with their great work, including around resistance to construction of pipelines and other fracked gas infrastructure.

What I’m Reading

The Progress of This Storm – a dense, sweeping, admirably short, and surprisingly funny survey of the current state of climate theory. Best book I’ve read on climate matters in some time.

Handbook on the Geographies of Energy – namely, the chapter by our friend Deepti Chatti; sadly, as an academic text, this book carries a hefty price-tag, but I can attest that the portion I’ve read is excellent.

The demise of the nation state – good “long read” by Rana Dasgupta, whose book, Capital – on contemporary Delhi – is also worth reading.

Rapid Spread of Polio in the Congo Threatens Global Eradication Efforts – frightening reminder of what’s at stake as we consider the global impacts of escalating climate disruption; this (horrifying) polio outbreak is not caused by climate breakdown, but climate breakdown can certainly take the bad and make it worse.

Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.


Good news, Seattle has “become the first major city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws, utensils and other single-use plastic items.”

Distracted from Distraction By Distraction: On Killer Convenience and Missing the Forest for the Screens

The Javits Center green roof: home to a hundred nesting birds, five beehives, and the PR aspirations of an institution

A dozen odd people have assembled around the model who – having scaled part of a broken wall in a West Village lot, currently vacant, but no doubt destined for development – now makes, in no discernible sequence, expressions – raunchy, exuberant, incoherent – while vamping in modes – alternately, ambivalently – suggestive and defiant. I pass two such scenes on my five-minute walk home, a walk which culminates in my passing a gentleman wearing a backpack and cargo shorts who has mounted his iPhone on a selfie stick, and walks numbly forward, smiling, recording the emptiness of our block – someone is walking a dog; a few of the gentleman’s fellow tourists have assembled, at block’s other end, before a house notable for its relationship to a savagely-banal TV show; a construction crew eat lunch on the wood-encased stoop of one of the countless townhouses across the Village currently undergoing never-ending gut-renovation to accommodate future super-rich occupants; otherwise, nothing is happening – and numbly smiling into the screen through which he experiences the world, the gentleman walks on before, and one supposes behind me, as I pass him, recording it all – the picturesque scene, my backside – for some notion of posterity – my posterior – but more immediately, to be parsed by the machine-learning algorithms of some nascent AI in a vast, private, energy-devouring data center. These are the activities, the images, by which humans are consumed as the Earth, and we with it, hurtle ever deeper into global ecological and climate catastrophe.

One might be inclined to despair, but then – that very same morning – the Internet has been awash in the news that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has won her primary. Clearly, someone – a great many someones – are awake out there and caring.

Later that same afternoon, I walk out our front door to discover a third film crew shooting on our stoop. One of the crew members signals to me in alarm – mouthing something like, “One second,” finger held aloft as if to shoosh or correct – and for a moment I pause, bags of recycling and trash (we produce it too, and sometimes it stinks) in hand, before proclaiming, “Sorry. It’s our house” – which it is not; we rent, though the sentiment stands – and proceeding to deposit bags in proper receptacles, noting, in the process, that further down the block, another film crew is similarly abusing another stoop, that of our neighbors.

As I muse on these words, roll them over in my mind, I pass a man sleeping across the street from the Tesla store in the great open pit of the Meatpacking District; he curls, fetal, on the sidewalk beneath the awning in front of what used to be a dive bar, is currently shuttered, and will no doubt soon reopen as luxury retail. I’m on my way to the High Line – not for a relaxing walk, because such is not possible, for a New Yorker, on what has become the City’s premier architectural showroom-cum-tourist attraction; I’m going to tour the green roof of the Javits Center – the City’s largest, the nation’s second, or so the Center advertises – and once aloft on the elevated train platform-turned-park, I find children dancing as if they were embodied memes; young adults Periscoping their uneventful walks to who-knows-whom (comments and emojis springing, not quite to life, on the screens as I pass this screen-following sleepwalker, that); my peers vaping absently with dead looks, blowing their treacly-sweet toxic smoke, indifferently, into the faces of passersby; then I’m face-to-screen face with a giant Kate Spade video ad – infused with a neoliberal whimsy no words are necessary to accentuate – no doubt the product of just such a production as those that have dogged my morning into my afternoon, though now confronting me from the side of 10 Hudson Yards. I wend my way around that immensely banal monument to waste, greed, tastelessness, climate denial, ecological insanity, and (no doubt) corruption, and only then catch sight of that other Hudson – which has other names that predate, by millennia, the arrival of the so-called explorer – swelling, as it always now seems to be, swelling within encrouched-upon and foreclosed banks nearly to the point of bursting.

The caption above summarizes my impressions of the green roof. I’ll only add that, as I’m up there – amidst the birds, and with the bird watchers; chaperoned by our lovely, over-exuberant, true-Javits Center-believer of a guide – hundreds of construction workers stop traffic on 11th Avenue, protesting at-the-moment-I-can’t-exactly-say-what treatment at the hands of Related on that very same vast Hudson Yards mega-project. Everywhere one looks, potential reasons for hope mingle with the numb indifference of the transfixed spectators, transmogrified by spectacle.

Then I’m back on the High Line, headed south; every which way one looks, people – not models – are posing and shooting, posing and shooting, reflexively; and as if by way of coda, I pass a fifth and final crew – this time only a photo – capturing images for I-know-not-what.

“They are always like,” says the model, in her Italian accent, as she mimics an expression of awe and surprise. “People these days are just obsessed.”

What I’m Doing

Enough of that dourness, though! Please allow me to offer some potential reasons for optimism and – hopefully – sources of inspiration:

  • I have, at last, joined the Democratic Socialists of America. I encourage you to self-educate and consider doing the same. Ocasio-Cortez’s inspiring primary victory (and my experience canvassing, donating to, and spreading the word about her campaign) was most certainly the catalyst for my choice.
  • I’ve been making the most of my summer schedule. I’ve been to Swale; The River Project (again, this time with a bevy of Love Child toddlers, no less!); Weeksville (if you’re not familiar with it, absolutely go pay a visit); AgTech-X; and on a number of Social Justice Tours across Brooklyn and Manhattan. I urge you to check out all of these great orgs/institutions/initiatives; we live in New York for a reason – please, this summer, go out and learn and love your City that much more, and support it becoming the best/a better version of itself. In my opinion, that collective process is rooted in education, and each of us can take action to be educating ourselves for change.
  • On the subject of the City, I made a Tree Service Request in June and re-acquainted myself with the Wait… pilot project. The City doesn’t always do the best job communicating with citizens about its numerous and various initiatives, but it’s nice to be reminded how responsive, progressive, and accountable our municipal government is in many respects if one can only navigate its layers.
  • Finally, I had the privilege of speaking with Travis at PowerMarket about their evolving community solar model. Working on the possibility of arranging site visits at the new solar installation in the Bronx, but in the meantime, I encourage you to consider (if you live in NYC) switching to community solar. We already have.

What I’m Reading

Our natural world is disappearing before our eyes. We have to save it – The latest from George Monbiot. Title speaks for itself.

Treated Like Trash and Hell on Wheels – continuation of Kiera Feldman’s must-read coverage of the deadly and hyper-corrupt private trash collection industry in NYC.

Cities face dramatic rise in heat, flood risks by 2050 and Antarctic melt holds coastal cities hostage – both brief, but to keep things in perspective.

How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country –  monthly reminder to keep in mind the well-funded and coordinated efforts that exist to undermine sane public policy and climate action.

Pennsylvania Fracking Health Impacts – monthly reminder of the human-cum-ecological ravages of the fracking currently unfolding all across this country.

The War of Hunger That Afflicts the World’s Poor – one of numerous must-read articles from the indefatigable Vijay Prashad, whose Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is consistently doing some of the most important, socially-engaged intellectual work of which I am aware.

Vigil held for Queens taxi driver whose family says committed suicide – monthly reminder of the human toll of convenience-consumption coupled with political corruption and corporate greed.

‘Poop Train’ Full of NYC Sewage Raises Stink in Alabama Town and How worried should New Yorkers be about sewage ending up in city waterways?– sewage for thought on the subject of NYC’s (massively excessive) consumption of “resources” and production of “waste.”

Illuminated Futures and Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era? – two pieces on design (failure) – the first, on the harms of LED streetlights, is essential reading for New Yorkers as we think about how to take swift and well-considered climate action while avoiding inadvertently creating major new problems or making old ones worse.

Are You Paying Enough for Your Food?There Are Ecological Limits to Growth – Just Look at Himachal PradeshWhy the War Against Plastics Must Be Unforgiving and Brook No ConcessionAs bioplastics get popular in India, a more genuine green choice is to boot out plastic altogether, and Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth (other than not having kids) – and finally, a handful of articles from India, and one from the UK, on food, plastic, and excess consumption.


If that wasn’t enough (or far too much!) already, please take a minute to watch this segment from Democracy Now! in which the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action criticizes the Trudeau Government’s purchase of Kinder Morgan’s embattled Trans Mountain pipeline as a “huge step backward” for Canada.

And if you are dying for more TED videos, eat your heart out: Here’s one on sane economics (that centers thriving, not growing) and another on a breakthrough in cooling technology. Both worth watching, and to be taken with the requisite TED grain of salt, and then some.

Finally finally, here’s a photo – by way of thank you for making it to the bottom – that I hope will brighten your day:

Fennel courtesy of Roots, Shoots, and Flowers at our local GreenMarket

Climate is a Culture Problem

Moving towards food independence in our kitchen

At root, climate problems are culture problems, which is to say, at once, that climate “solutions” do not depend (solely) on technological advances, and that climate “progress” is unlikely to be made in the absence of massive cultural change.

We were upstate recently owing to a death in my mother’s family, and I couldn’t help but reflect how suicidal and dead-hearted persons (corporate or otherwise) must be not to value water. Sitting lakeside in the small town outside of which my mother grew up, looking out over the water towards the forested hills surrounding, how could I not feel reverence?

And yet, these matters immediately become overwhelmingly, fractally complex; our ability to drive upstate – the condition of my state of revery – had been app-mediated, facilitated by a venture-funded startup, and, of course, only the availability of (cheap) gasoline had made the drive possible. While my ancestors settled in Upstate New York – poor Bavarian peasants fleeing the ravages of the Interwar Years in Germany – settle they did, and their participation in the settler colonial project still unfolding in what’s called the United States becomes, then – like global neoliberal capitalism – a kind of precondition for my moment on the dock looking out over the lake as the sun set behind the wooded hills.

All to say, there are no easy answers or outs if one is really committed to cultural conversation, but, in my opinion, it is the only conversation that stands any reasonable chance of halting (and reversing) climate breakdown while also opening the door to a future more just and equitable than the ravaged present.

Does that lessen my commitment to the brave little-c citizen activists fighting upstate to protect, for example, Seneca Lake or Orange County from the depredations of state-and-federally-abetted fossil fuel companies? Not at all. It’s just that things are complicated, and people aren’t always very good at staying committed to their own struggles while also acknowledging those of others – especially when most of us find ourselves constantly both part of solutions and part of problems in ways that often feel irreconcilable. As Tuck and Yang point out, Decolonization is not a metaphor. (Credit and thanks to our friends at Decolonize This Place for pointing me to this brilliant and unsettling essay.)

The struggles of We are Seneca Lake and Protect Orange County rhyme with the ongoing struggle at Standing Rock, and the more that we form local, national, and global coalitions around true and honest reckonings with our common needs and aspirations and our meaningful differences, the greater our chance of winning something that looks like a just and livable future. Who this we is – and how it comes to have more than sentimental or rhetorical meaning – may be among the hardest of cultural questions to resolve, however.

Incidentally, for our part, New York City draws its water from watersheds upstate that are menaced by the same pipelines, power plants, and natural gas infrastructure projects  that are threatening lakes and farmland, health and livelihoods, and one of the farmers at our local Greenmarket hails from Orange County, just downwind of the CPV Power Plant.

Back in our neck of the woods, repair of a short stretch of Hudson-fronting bulkhead drags into at least its seventh or eighth month. According to the “Minutes of a Meeting of the Board of Directors” of the Hudson River Park Trust from July of 2016, the contract for this work was valued at approximately $400,000 – frankly, lower than I expected; to do some quick math, I’d guess that the “Morton Street Bulkhead” in question is no more than 100 yards in length, and probably well less. New York City alone has more than 500 miles of coastline. At more than 1700 yards per mile, we’re in the vicinity of 10,000 Morton Street Bulkhead-lengths of NYC coastline. Now, admittedly, much of the City’s coastline – for example, in Washington or Brooklyn Heights – is mercifully not terribly exposed to the immediate threat of sea-level rise, but if even half of NYC’s coastline is under relatively immediate threat from rising tides, the cost of some equivalent remediation based on this no-doubt-low price would already be into the billions (5,000 x 400,000 = 2,000,000,000); however, for the areas, like our own, that are exposed to an immediate and growing threat from rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, simply repairing existing bulkheads and the like will obviously not be enough. Massive sea walls will be necessary. If we speculate that such an undertaking would cost an order of magnitude more than basic repairs, then we’d be looking at a $20 billion price tag. For comparison, that’s about on par with the recently-proposed plan to “Fix the Subways.”

Now imagine that another Superstorm Sandy-like event devastates the City. And then perhaps five years later, another. Christian Parenti’s great piece in Jacobin, If We Failto which I’ve linked before – is a good notional primer on the type of spiraling fiscal-infrastructural crisis that climate change could catalyze in New York, as elsewhere, including in many of the world cities – like Singapore, Tokyo, and Bombay – that serve as key nodes in the global economy.

Anyway, enough (highly realistic and pragmatic) doom and gloom. As always, in the end, this blog is meant to be devoted to tangible action, and the point I hope I’m making here is this: In the absence of dramatic changes in culture, technological “solutions” to climate breakdown will almost certainly fall short. The changes start with each and all of us. Here’s what I’ve been to.

What I’m Doing

Short version: Not very much right now. Between the end of the school year, family and friends visiting, and nice weather, I’ve put off everything I can until June.

  • Still, I’ve started laying groundwork to facilitate a series of “sustainability” site visits for (especially young) New Yorkers, and hope/plan to make significant headway on this over the summer with a goal of launching at least some programming in the fall. More to come on this, but my vision is to create experiences that will help people better understand the systems/infrastructures of water, food, energy, and “waste” upon which we rely in the City through the lens of great work being done within the five boroughs, for example, on urban ag, recycling, and river stewardship.
  • I never cease to marvel at the grandeur of the trees, and have made a priority this spring of luxuriating in flowers in bloom and trees in bud. I believe that – along with empathy – reverence will be at the heart of the essential cultural shifts we so desperately need to make, and I’ve been making a point of embracing – and making time and space – for my own sense of wonder.
  • Finally, I donated to our friend Electra’s GoFundMe, Food Security for Puerto Rico, and I encourage you to do the same! (Big thanks to Fred Wilson for his support for this worthy campaign.)

What I’m Reading

WHITE HOUSE THOUGHT BURYING A REPORT ABOUT POISON DRINKING WATER WAS A GREAT IDEA & THE EPA’S “LEADERSHIP SUMMIT” ON PFOA POLLUTION WILL EXCLUDE VICTIMS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS – I recommend reading these two pieces through the lens of the recent report on the catastrophic health impacts of fracking, and as parables about just how essential cultural change is. As long as we (that is, corporations) keep pumping our environments full of toxins and carcinogens, no amount of pharmaceutical research (often pursued by corporations which are, themselves, major polluters) and no number of 5Ks will cure cancer. You may want to take a minute to look up your own water utility in this helpful database, and to consider using a water filter at home if you don’t already; please don’t start drinking exclusively bottled water though unless you, like the people in Flint, really have no other option – that would be stupid and self-defeating.

Paid actors faked public support for a power plant in New Orleans & Crowd Source:
Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters – because we are all almost always being subjected to (state and corporate) surveillance and manipulation. Especially in view of recent developments regarding the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, these articles are sobering.

America is more diverse than ever — but still segregated & Gerontopoly: Homeownership, wealth, and age – the first of which allows you to look at neighborhood-by-neighborhood segregation in every major American city, and the second of which offers perspective on how macro factors have shaped the national “housing crisis”.

The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right – as my friend Josh, of Green Top Farms, pointed out after sharing this with me, the authors make no mention of food justice, but the piece is very helpful from a nutritional perspective.

No Mincing Words: India Is Warming RapidlyA rough monsoon has left India’s ramshackle cities more decrepit than ever. Get used to it – reminders that the people most immediately paying the harshest price for climate breakdown are those least responsible for it.

Tick and Mosquito Infections Spreading Rapidly, C.D.C. Finds – because it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and we should all be doing our best to keep ourselves healthy and safe.


I encourage you to check out (and subscribe to) the ZeroWasteHabesha newsletter. My partner pointed me to it, and the author, Olivia, does a far better job than do I in centering environmental justice (and calling out environmental racism).

Finally, this excellent, long interview with Vijay Prashad and this short blurb on the mother and daughter who attempted to stop a fracked gas pipeline from being built through “their own property” in Virginia – before being literally starved out of the trees in which they were sitting – should provide perspective and inspiration.

Doing More, Doing Less

April is the Fool-est month – the weather playing tricks on us as the flowers come into bloom

In the spirit of the title, I’m aiming to keep this month’s newsletter short and sweet – or at least shorter and sweeter than those past. Attempting to summarize even a small portion of the climate news each month was – as mentioned in my last newsletter – coming to feel overwhelming and exhausting. One reader commented, via email, “wow, that is a “link heavy” blog !!!” which struck me as funny and indisputably correct.

My goal in summarizing was to let the aggregation of articles, podcasts, video clips, etc. speak for itself, and although I found it a worthwhile exercise, in deference to my own well-being and in an attempt to draw down less data from power-hungry data centers, I’m going to pivot somewhat starting now. Going forward, at least until the next pivot, I hope to use this writing as a way to work through and share my own progress in taking climate action big and small.

One key idea here is that – as the title suggests – for those of us living in rich countries, or who are relatively rich, and especially both, some of the most important climate action we can take is what we don’t do. We should fly less. Drive less. Consume less. We should watch less, and less carelessly. We should waste less, and less wantonly. We should take seriously the responsibilities of stewardship and lower-case-c citizenship, even if it leads us to uncomfortable questions.

We shouldn’t delude ourselves that shopping local, or not using plastic bags, or buying Fair Trade – or any of the other palliatives the relatively rich use to salve our consciences – will actually “solve” the global climate crisis that is a function of extractive capitalism; however, harm reduction is harm reduction, and to repeat the redundancy, when we do less harm, less harm is done. Rather than let ourselves be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and hence wallow in fatalism, denial, and toothless guilt, we should always be looking to take concrete steps that feel achievable, while also having the courage to stay uncomfortable about everything that still needs to be done.

What I’m Doing

Some good news to share:

  • We have signed on with OnForce Solar, via PowerMarket, to get both our residential and commercial electricity via a community solar project currently under construction in the South Bronx. What this means is that, rather than paying a minuscule premium on our ConEd bill to Arcadia Power in exchange for their purchasing (and retiring) Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) on our behalf, we will now be paying OnForce – which will in turn pay Con Edison – in exchange for OnForce feeding solar-generated electricity directly into the New York City grid. Our electricity still will not, necessarily, come directly from a renewable source, but we have moved one step closer to that goal, and in the process, we will be saving approximately 10% on our electricity bill (an unexpected bonus which I don’t fully understand yet, but which I suspect has something to do with government subsidies, and will be looking into). If you live in New York City, and would like to save a little money on your electricity bill, I encourage you to check out PowerMarket and OnForce, and if you would like to learn a little more, just reach out, and I’ll be happy to introduce you to Travis at PowerMarket.
  • I’ve attended a number of public forums and events on climate issues in the last month or so, and am pleased to see a wide variety of organizations – including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the New School, Columbia University, Civic Hall, and Green-e (a great resource for educating yourself about some of the more arcane and technical aspects of current US renewable energy policy and circumstances), among others – taking the necessity of climate action seriously.
  • I attended a workshop of The Truth Has Changed, a powerful monologue by Josh Fox centering climate issues, the Global War on Terror, and their intersection in the fracking boom that has been driven by the post-9/11 shift towards American “energy independence.” Look for the show to open this September 11th in NYC. Josh and his team are currently seeking funding and support should you be interested in backing the theatrical run, which we may. If you haven’t yet seen his film, Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock, I recommend you check it – and Gasland – out. One episode in The Truth Has Changed is devoted to recounting the coordinated energy lobby-funded smear campaign that was launched against Fox after the release of Gasland in 2010.

What I’m Reading

Charlton Heston: Prophet of the Eco-Apocalypse? – excellent piece by Justin McBrien  framing climate resiliency as a form of apology for capitalist exploitation and calling for an end to eco-apartheid, all through the lens of the films and life of Charlton Heston.

An Unsustainable World Managed With an Iron Fist – long read by Todd Miller, via TomDispatch, on climate breakdown, climate refugees, and the global rise of neo-fascism.

This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Take Over Your Town – is what it sounds like, from Politico.

The Last Days of Jerry Brown – owing to Gov. Brown’s support for fracking in California, I have come to be something of a skeptic, but I learned something in reading this piece from The California Sunday Magazine, and recommend you have a look.

Latin America: End of a golden age? How the Commons creates alternatives to neoliberalism and the vanguard left – fascinating, dense, and long deep-dive into recent and current state of politics in the Americas to the south.

The Year Climate Change Began to Spin Out of Control – a piece as alarming as it sounds like it would be from the MIT Technology Review.

IN THE RUINS OF THE PRESENT – a sweeping assessment of the current global political situation from Vijay Prashad’s Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research – among the best things I’ve read of late.


This helpful series of short videos from UCLA’s Climate Lab, in partnership with Vox, offers great primers on easy climate action steps you can take right now related to take-out food, two-day delivery, and many other day-to-day mundanities. Although I don’t endorse all the (often corporatist) positions advanced in the series – for example, support for nuclear power generation – I hope you’ll find many of the ideas and tips actionable and accessible yourself.

The Ideas of March

In absence of climate action, condominiums may soon have Hudson water lapping at their doormen

If only fossil fuel and military-industrial interests had to beware the Ides of March!

Or the ideas, for that matter. Truth be told, though, I’m finding it challenging to keep up with even a small fraction of the climate headlines. Given that much of the latest news is ambivalent, I’m going to go ahead and give a mixed summary of good and bad here, while trying to privilege the bright spots, and admitting that this is quite New York and US-centric.

In not so brief, “Crazy floods” hit the Midwest in February while temperatures in New England reached 80°; shortly thereafter, a series of devastating Nor’easters left wide swaths of destruction up and down the East Coast and hundreds of thousands without power; a clearer picture emerged of how deadly winter wildfires in California overwhelmed first responders and emergency response systems (in a premonition of what could happen to entire nations and megacities in the not-so-distant future); concerns grew that melting glaciers in Greenland might un-ice toxic waste left buried there from a Cold War-era US military operation; the relevance of #MeToo extended even to Antarctica; and an alarmingly early spring in the American Southeast was coupled with alarmingly low snowpack levels in the American West.

On the brighter side, not only did teenagers lead the way on gun control, but the lawsuit which sees “13 kids sue Washington state for life, liberty and a livable climate” is moving forward; Mayor de Blasio renewed his call for a plastic bag ban, which may soon also have support from Governor Cuomo (currently feeling the heat), and de Blasio’s administration will sue major oil companies (although, at the same time, it spent more than $10,000 on gas for the Mayoral fleet of cars in the second half of 2017); massive floodgates were installed to protect New York City tunnels; St. Patrick’s Cathedral rolled out in energy efficient geothermal heating and cooling system in advance of St. Patrick’s Day; and Cape Town may not run out of water this year after all.

After decades of cleanup, the Chesapeake Bay is “flourishing”residents of Uniontown, Alabama “are saying the EPA doesn’t care about black people” and are “Fighting Against Cancerous & Toxic Coal Ash Dumping“; California’s Attorney General formed a bureau of environmental justice; even Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to get in on suing fossil fuel companies; Joseph Percoco, a former top aide and close personal friend of Gov. Cuomo, was found guilty of accepting $300,000 in bribes (hence the heat) in a case closely tied to the construction of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State; and according to CDP, “Over 100 global cities get [a] majority of [their] electricity from renewables“, while the P2P Foundation mused on “The City as the New Political Centre” and the people of Babcock Ranch found that it’s harder than one might imagine to build an off-the-grid community from scratch.

A federal judge cleared the way for plaintiffs to sue “greenhouse-gas emitters” in federal court; activists are facing felony charges for shutting off the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the United States; a court dismissed an Israel-lobby backed lawfare suit against the Olympia Food Co-op; another federal judge ruled that the White House had broken the law in failing to enforce new, stricter rules regulating ozone emissions; in India, tens of thousands of Maharashtrian farmers marched to Bombay / Mumbai to demand basic rights; in Kansas, farmers cut their water use and saved money; California crops were threatened by climate change; tractor-hackers attempted to break the monopoly of manufacturers on repair; and a Tennessee university pulled support for its own study on the environmental impact of trucking when it was revealed that a trucking company had paid for the research.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration continued to be a catastrophic train wreck; Congress got Fs on their “Environmental Report Card“; Russian trolls shared nasty climate change memes; College Republicans have a climate change plan (watch this idiotic video on “Carbon Dividends” if you’re interested); in a likely instance of greenwashing, the Climate Group claims that “WORLD-LEADING MULTINATIONALS [are] ACCELERATING A CLEAN ECONOMY“; “Michael Bloomberg [has been] appointed UN climate envoy“; Scott Pruitt believes that God has a plan for him; Ryan Zinke won an award – the Rubber Dodo – honoring “the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s natural heritage or drive endangered species extinct”; and, according to Politico, Silicon Valley has a new libertarian partner in DC, namely, Charles Koch.

Winding down here, “Paleontologists discovered a huge ancient fossils trove in Bears Ears National Monument” just as the White House moves forward with plans – that, like the War in Iraq, have nothing to do with oil – to dismantle the protected site; black lung is on the rise in Appalachia; JD Vance may not be such a reliable source after all; the poor are systematically subjected to lower quality air; Houston is having an unjust Harvey recovery;  water shortages are driving conflict in Malawi; the shrinking of Lake Chad is causing hunger; mineral wars are driving war in the DRC (think cell phones and solar panels); Rolling Stone is writing about “the Age of Climate Migration”; “Climate change [is] pushing weather extremes ‘off the scale‘,” according to C40; ““Freakishly Warm” Arctic Weather Has Scientists Reconsidering Worst-Case Scenarios on Climate Change,” according to Democracy Now!; some people believe putting giant blankets on glaciers might slow the ice’s melting; Washington state’s proposed carbon tax failed, again, to be passed; and Stephen Hawking, who had spoken out against climate change, died.

But to end on a more encouraging note, yet another federal judge put a temporary stay on construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline (while critics of the pipeline decried “State & Company” surveillance of activists); an environmental journalist rejected Malthusian racism; National Geographic at least pretended to own its “decades” of racism (like thirteen of them); Puerto Ricans fought back against coal ash dumping that has been poisoning their water since long before Hurricane Maria; France pledged €700 million to the International Solar Alliance, even as “Financing and Import Duty Issues Darken the Sky” for the ISA in the aftermath of US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord; and Daily Kos petitioned Congress to “Permanently ban import of all big game trophies to United States“, in an existential blow to the President’s eldest son, although it seems all but certain that the vaquita porpoise will go extinct.

Finally, a compendious and authoritative new report found “Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer” associated with fracking and concluded that there is no safe way to frack; as one of the co-authors put it, “Fracking is the worst thing I’ve ever seen”, which in turn sheds light on just how essential is the work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, as it continues fighting to advance the rights of nature.

To me, that felt like a lot, and that’s barely more than half of what I had flagged in the last three weeks. I’d planned to dig into the mineral economy of solar panels here, but I think that will have to wait for a future newsletter. As it is, this was exhausting to write (as it no doubt was to read); the irony being that, had I simply written less and taken a walk, that would’ve been three less hours I’d have been on my computer, drawing down data from data centers which, themselves, are consuming an appreciable percentage of global electricity.

What I’m Doing

Going to keep this as brief as possible:

  • For the past two months, I’ve charged my phone using a solar panel (and connected battery). While I have no illusions about the climate impact here, it has been illuminating to have my use of an essential device tethered more directly to energy from the sun. As the days get longer and sunnier here in NYC, I suspect we will be able to charge two smartphones, a Bluetooth speaker, and perhaps a tablet exclusively using this panel. (To keep things in perspective, the Internet suggests an iPhone uses ~ 1 – 5 kWh/year. We just booked round-trip plane tickets via which I suspect we will incur a proportional (fossil fuel) energy consumption of around 5,000 kWh each.) Perhaps it’s helpful to think about calculus, and what can happen when we multiply infinitesimally small quantities by an infinitely large number; sadly, however, we do not have infinite time.
  • We continue to compost, simply storing our weekly bio-refuse in a (plastic) bin in our freezer, and then taking it to our local farmers market every Saturday. For those who may be interested, NYC has also rolled out curbside collection for food waste on a much larger scale in the last year or two. You can apply for a brown bin so as to be able to participate.
  • Which reminds me, we have committed to doing more or less all of our food shopping at Integral Foods and our local Greenmarket.
  • Additionally, we’re proud to support our NYC-based urban farmers, Josh, of Green Top Farms – who provides twice-weekly salads for gatherings at Love Child – and Electra, of Green Food Solutions, whose rooftop greenhouse-grown greens make their way weekly from the Bronx to our kitchen.
  • Speaking of Love Child, I’m also delighted that they’ve rolled out a “Minimalist Baby Registry”, offering “All the Essential Stuff & Services You’ll Actually Use”; scroll to the bottom of this page for a mini-manifesto on shopping “small”, “ethically-made and sourced”, “reusable and eco-friendly”, “non-toxic”, and “minimalist” – in the words of the manifesto,”For our own sake, and for the sake of future generations”, but also in the belief that “we might just find that, by consuming less, we enjoy our lives more, and find more time for the things – and most importantly, the people – who really matter.” As one recent study suggested, parents – or maybe more, parenting – consumes a huge amount of energy, not only human, but fossil fuel-derived.
  • On the subject of babies, and therefore, poop, I signed up for City alerts regarding when there is a risk of sewage overflow “going into our waterways”; the idea is that we should avoid unnecessarily using water (e.g., (second) shower, doing laundry, etc.) during these periods. Here’s a Times article if you’d like a little more background.
  • I’ve continued to make regular calls to my local, state, and federal representatives, and especially to Gov. Cuomo’s office regarding Percoco, CPV, the Millennium Valley Lateral Pipeline, the Williams Pipeline (slated to pass directly under New York Harbor), and the urgent need to ban all fracking-related activities in the Delaware River Basin and keep all fracked gas, fracking chemicals, and fracking waste out of New York State.
  • Finally, I’ve been in touch with Sam at Sims Municipal Recycling in Brooklyn about the possibility of a group tour in the spring; I visited the facility over the summer, and found the experience transformative. Please let me know if you might be interested in joining.
  • Oh, and this on Arcadia Power and Renewable Energy Credits (or RECs) in case you’re considering using Arcadia or a similar service so as to support renewable energy generation when you pay your electricity bill.

What I’m Reading

Dark Money – Jane Mayer’s tour de force of investigative journalism on the Koch brothers, other right-wing billionaires, and their caustic impact on our collective politics in the United States. Significant emphasis is given to Koch Industries’ superlatively dismal environmental and work-place safety records, and the Kochs, et al’s funding of climate denial.

The Age of Unintended Consequences – excellent long piece by Tom Engelhardt on climate breakdown as the ultimate civilizational blowback.

How Fair trade can accomplish economic, social and ecological goals – dense and thorough examination by Heiner Flassbeck of what works about Fair Trade and what doesn’t. I’m hoping to talk more about food in an upcoming newsletter, and this might be a nice bridge to some of those topics.

Youth camps shape new generations with patriotism, pushups and prayer – a photo essay from Reveal that is as terrifying as its title suggests it would be.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it… (and I Don’t Feel Fine) – a long blog post that is less depressing, and more uplifting, than its title might otherwise suggest.


I highly recommend Episode 7 of In the Field India – a podcast about India and development – which digs into the “complex” “story of women and work in India”; on the subject of women’s empowerment, this TED Talk by Musimbi Kanyoro – which argues that empowering women and girls is likely the most powerful way to fight climate change – complements the In the Field episode nicely.