Everybody's Earth

A Conversation in Conservation

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Community Gardens: Why They are Important

March 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

When my friend Barbara told me that she runs a small community garden on a vacant lot in Elmhurst, Queens, I made her promise to show me around.  On a crisp Fall day, we did something better.  We planted over 100 daffodil bulbs and various other perennial plants.

Before we got to planting, I made some observations.  The community garden’s infrastructure looked very hand-made and was indicative of a collective, grassroots, community-based effort.  The planting beds were constructed by Barbara, a bench was donated and installed by the members of Young Governors, an Elmhurst-based youth organization, and signs were hand painted and propped up by the entrance of the garden.  Each planting bed has each owners’ crops of the season, and they made the parcel of otherwise undeveloped land appear much more attractive than it had been prior to the presence of the community members.

In 2013, Young Governors has donated over 600 fruits and vegetables to the New Life Community Development Food Pantry that were grown in the community garden.  The garden meant so many things for the community of Elmhurst.  The members had a place to gather and make friends, the greater community gained social benefits through the donation of fresh vegetables to the poor, and the neighborhood has a beautiful natural urban area in a densely populated residential area. 

In the summer of 2013, the owner of the vacant lot sold it to a developer who planned on building a 5-story house in the already housing-dense neighborhood.  The members along with Congresswoman Grace Meng are petitioning against this sale in hopes to come up with a mutually beneficial solution to this conundrum.
Why is this important? – Well, the benefits of a community garden are abundant.  Some positives are obvious such as community engagement, activism, and education, donating fresh produce to the poor, aesthetic value, and green space.  Some are not so obvious like the increased value of houses near green areas and the physical and mental health benefits for children and senior citizens who are able to be active outdoors while being able to remain close to home.  Community gardens need to be an integral part of neighborhood and urban planning from here on out as “urban conservationists” strive to be equitable as much as they are impactful in their work.

 

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Free Course at Columbia University on Sustainable Development

January 16th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Great news, fellow Knights!  There is an amazing opportunity to take a course with Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University for free. Here is the link.

The course description states:

This course provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of sustainable development, drawing on the most recent developments in the social, policy, and physical sciences. Sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. The fundamental question is how the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The course describes the complex interactions between the world economy and the Earth’s physical environment. Ecological processes and constraints (climate, disease ecology, physical resources such as soils and energy sources, topography and transport conditions) significantly shape the patterns of economic development, demography, and wealth and poverty. At the same time, human activities (farming, land use, urbanization, demographic change, and energy use) change the physical environments, increasingly in dangerous ways. The course offers a broad overview of the key challenges and potential solutions to achieve sustainable development in the 21st century.

The course is available to ANYBODY that is interested in the topics surrounding environmental issues.  I suspect that it will foster an all-encompassing perspective when it comes to thinking about sustainability.  As students, I believe it is important to make an effort to take every learning experience one can participate in (time-permitting) and become more cosmopolitan in our thinking as we figure out our place on this earth.

 

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The Global Impact of Deforestation in Brazil

December 18th, 2013 · Uncategorized

In light of Queens College’s focus on the Year of Brazil, I wanted to address an environmental issue that is prevalent within, but not limited to Brazil.  BBC news recently covered a story on the increasing rate of deforestation in Brazil that is troubling environmentalists worldwide.  Brazil has had a longstanding history with deforestation and much of it is being done illegally.  From 2009 to 2012, the level of deforestation in Brazil was declining, but in 2013, the rate of deforestation went up by 28 percent. This sharp increase is still less deforestation that occurred in 2004, where 27,000 sq km versus 5,843 sq km of forest land in 2013 was removed.

Reform of the forest protection law in 2012 is believed to be the cause of the increase.  Because 5 percent of Brazil’s GDP comes from agricultural activities, the farmers’ lobby fought for reduced protected areas in farms and amnesty for areas destroyed before 2008 and won. You can read more about Brazil’s economic activity in Leora’s blog here. The Brazilian government conceded to the farm lobbyists and passed a bill that passed reforms to the law which ultimately caused the downward sloping trajectory of deforestation, and now the government is scrambling to remedy the crisis. The reforms reduced the number of “protected areas” in farms and also allowed landowners to develop on certain forest-lands. Despite the increase, the Brazilian government is reluctant to blame policy changes. Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s environment minister, pointed to the long-term decrease in deforestation over the past decade and said the overall trend was “positive.” The government’s goal, Teixeira told a news conference in Brasilia, “is to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon.” (Reuters)

According to the World Resources Institute, forest loss contributes between 12 percent and 17 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, and a large portion of the loss is caused by the destruction of rainforests in the Amazon. This is done to provide the economy with more farmland, timber, urbanization, and other commercial uses. Most of the food people in cities consume come from crops and livestock grown on farms that exist on deforested land. So this is not just a rural, Brazilian problem.  It can be seen as an issue, fueled and perpetuated by the demand from urban areas all around the world.

 Global Forest Loss

Global forest loss

  • The map shows forest change from 2000-12. Green areas are forested; red suffered forest loss; blue showed forest gain; pink experienced both loss and gain.
  • The Earth lost 2.3m sq km of tree cover in 2000-12, because of logging, fire, disease or storms
  • But the planet also gained 800,000 sq km of new forest, meaning a net loss of 1.5m sq km
  • Brazil showed the best improvement of any country, cutting annual forest loss in half between 2003-04 and 2010-11

Deforestation poses several issues for people, plants and animals that rely upon Earth’s free ecosystem services:

1)      Loss of Biodiversity: Forests serve as homes to several different species and with the removal of forest land, the flora and fauna of the ecosystem either die-off in the region or become extinct. The loss of biodiversity contributes to a loss of ecosystem health, which leaves the land and waters of the region vulnerable to natural disasters and contamination.

Deforestation 1

2)      Water Cycle: Trees absorb much of the water in the earth’s atmosphere, and holds it within the ecosystem, and slowly releases some in gaseous form back into the air.  With the loss of trees also comes the loss of water that is able to circulate within an ecosystem, therefore leaving arid land behind that is unsuitable for farming.

 water cycle

3)      Soil Erosion: The process of clear-cutting trees and burning them removes forest land from the desired area.  This exposes the land to the drying effect of the sun and wind, making the soil infertile. When crops can no longer grow on the land, it cannot hold onto the soil and therefore erosion occurs. Soil erosion can lead to increased vulnerability to floods and other natural disasters.

deforestation 2

4)      Quality of Life: For people who rely upon the healthy services of a forest ecosystem, or even arable land, mass deforestation puts them at risk for losing their livelihoods. Soil erosion can deposit sediments into clean drinking water systems making the water undrinkable.  The loss of trees compromises the service provided by them that every living thing depends on: releasing oxygen and capturing carbon dioxide. Burning trees adds carbon dioxide to our atmosphere and removing trees lowers the number of trees available to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen.  Deforestation perpetuates the effect of global warming in this way.

 It is always important to remember that global issues and challenges are not relegated to the confines of a nation’s boundaries.  Environmental degradation is one of the most difficult problems facing our society today due to issues of containment.  The negative effects of deforestation spread from Brazil to Zimbabwe.  Whether it is deforestation in the Amazon, or melting polar ice caps in the North Pole, everyone is hurt, because this is everybody’s earth.

 

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You Can’t Judge a Lake by its Surface: Meadow Lake

November 1st, 2013 · Uncategorized

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Children learning how to row as part of a crew team on Meadow Lake, Queens.

Recently, I was at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and took the opportunity to walk to Meadow Lake for the first time since I am such a huge advocate for urban nature. What I saw was amazing. I was blown away by the beauty of the lake and was able to admire the backdrop of the Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion against the line of trees and glistening water.  That particular day, there were local kids learning how to row as part of a crew team. It was a beautiful sight indeed.  As I absorbed the park and all of its glory, I began to wonder how the lake ended up in this seemingly random location, and what the impact of the man-made lake was to the surrounding natural environment. So I did a bit of research and found results that were not as bright as the reflective surface of the lake…

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Ash landfill from the early 20th century in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park

Meadow Lake in Flushing, Queens has an interesting story due to the history of Flushing Meadow’s development.  When the Dutch and English settled in this region of Queens, the land was robust with native plant species and natural marshlands that filtered water coming in from Flushing Bay. However, in the early 20th century, it became the famous ash dump mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Development paved over the natural environment, and disrupted the free ecosystem services that were provided by the flora and fauna of Flushing Meadows.

When New York City’s most famous and prolific urban planner, Robert Moses decided to develop Flushing Meadows into a recreational space, several fast-paced changes occurred to the ash-ridden area. Flushing Meadows was cleaned up, cleared out, and replaced with park space, walkways, parking lots, and two lakes – Willow Lake and Meadow Lake – by fixing the water level in the former wetland complex with a tide gate near the high tide mark.  These bodies of water became aesthetic centerpieces of the Worlds Fair in 1939. They also served as rudimentary storm water treatment plants, where run-off from the surrounding highways (i.e. the Grand Central Parkway) was able to settle, allowing “cleaner” water to flow back into the Bay, but the sediments remained in the lakes.  Development of this scope generally has tremendous negative implications for the environment and its ecological functions especially if biodiversity and environmental sustainability is not part of the agenda. Sure enough, the tide gates created the lakes, but human intervention also generated significant losses for the ecosystems of Flushing Meadows.

According to an ecological analysis done by the Gaia Institute of Meadow Lake, the surrounding soil and lake sediment lack vital nutrients, so the plant life is very uniform, essentially a monoculture, and is constantly subject to invasive species overhaul.  Meadow Lake suffers from eutrophication, a phenomenon that occurs when an excess of nutrients in water results in excess plant growth, which then ultimately leads to the removal of oxygen upon which the fish and other creatures in the water depend. The excess nutrients come from run-off, but it is also a result of the man-made conditions of the lake. Because Meadow Lake was created on top of a marsh, the still body of water allowed for the release of naturally occurring nutrients – namely phosphorus (plants love this stuff!) – overtime. Phosphorus promotes plant growth and the production of oxygen through photosynthesis, but when the excessive amounts of plants die off, they settle into the bottom of the lake and become organic matter that in turn depletes the water of oxygen.   There is also a profuse build-up of plankton because the heavy load of nutrients and low oxygen levels do not provide a conducive habitat for aquatic life to flourish. Due to the lack of biodiversity, the water itself is home to very few types of fish.

So, in a way, my experience with this particular form of urban nature felt like picking between the lesser of two evils.  The first evil is the fact that I was enjoying “nature” that is actually quite harmful to ecosystems, and the second evil is not experiencing any urban nature at all. Anyway, I have concluded that my choice to pursue nature in the city cannot be stopped by a philosophical quandary just yet.  I will continue to seek nature in this concrete jungle for what it’s worth.

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Ducks on the lake

 

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Has the U.S. Stabilized its Carbon Emissions?

October 10th, 2013 · Uncategorized

 

I am taking a class on Urban Research Methods and recently learned about the various ways “mutant stats” develop.  One such reason is an obvious one…certain groups will skew numbers and the contexts that encases these numerical values to represent the social, political, and/or economic agenda they support.  This happens in every issue or matter of debate in our society, and especially with the present (and strange) debate on climate change.  Some opponents of anthropogenic climate change argue the United States is no longer responsible for polluting and emitting massive quantities of carbon dioxide.  These opponents do not simply deny human beings’ role in global warming but they also reject the fact that the United States is contributing to the ”problem” because they believe a) we as a nation have stabilized our emission levels through the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy and b) other nations like China and India (nations transitioning from agricultural to industrial economies) pollute more, and therefore we are exempt from blame SHOULD our atmosphere begin playing the role of a hot, hot oven.  The lesson on misleading statistics brought me back to a paper I wrote discussing this exact problem.  Government policies contain loopholes that provide the opportunity for an abundance of people to create definitions and produce numbers that may appear convincing at first, but are biased and erroneous in reality.

The United States’ immense prosperity, power, and influence were not spontaneously acquired overnight. It was a gradual confluence of hard-working citizens, a rise in technological innovations, and an abundance of available resources. The pivoting point for modest America’s transformation into becoming the world’s leading nation occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution (1820-1870). The invention of engine-powered factory-production machines and efficient human labor (e.g. the assembly line) made the extraction and management of resources a relatively easy task. The rabid and insatiable desire to expand and flourish became the impetus for the U.S. to burn fossil fuels at unsustainable rates, thus filling the atmosphere with a variety of green house gases, predominantly carbon dioxide.

In the past, polluting activities such as burning coal and extracting natural gases and oil at an unprecedented rate were unmitigated actions that ultimately established the U.S. as a Superpower. However, modern science has proved the detrimental effects of anthropogenic climate change, and so the U.S. – along with other major polluters – is struggling to reduce its emissions to improve its reputation. Developed nations desire to expunge themselves from the guilt of their forefathers and discover ways to be more energy efficient. In order to facilitate the U.S. and other developed nations such as the United Kingdom and Sweden in their complicated transition into becoming “climate-conscious” entities, the Kyoto Protocol worked with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to configure strategic methods to reduce emissions of developed nations, while permitting the progression and industrial growth of developing nations. According to Scientific American contributors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, Since 1952, there has been a 39% reduction in the U.S.’s share of global carbon emissions, a 23% reduction since 2002, and this value is predicted to decline over the coming years. These numbers at first glance ostensibly bring upon “good news”, however, it is important to understand the way these percentages were calculated. The seemingly apparent decline in carbon emissions from the U.S. is represented in number-form, however, we do not see a downsizing shift in our consumerism behavior. We, as a society, as a nation continue to over-consume, over-produce, and waste many materials. So how are we actually reducing the rate of our global emissions contribution? Americans have not drastically revolutionized their daily consumption habits, nor have industries uprooted every piece of inefficient technologies and replaced them with alternative, “green” ones. However, they did transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Imports have increased as exports have decreased, thus allowing for their carbon footprint to be offset and outsourced to developing nations. This fact is not reflected in the values provided by Socolow and Pacala’s article.

According to the results of a study called “Growth in Emission Transfers via International Trade from 1990 to 2008”, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), international trade is a significant factor in explaining the change in emissions in many countries, from both a production and consumption perspective. The UNFCCC established that the “level of mitigation for an individual country should be based on “equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities””(Peters et al, 1). In response to this determination, the Kyoto Protocol applied a “fragmented, two-tier mitigation strategy in which developed countries are given a “quantified emission limitation or reduction commitment” for the period 2008 to 2012” (Peters et al, 1). Developing countries are excluded from this “commitment” due to the fact that they still need to burn fossil fuels to expand their industry and work to become a developed nation. Developing countries such as China whose growth has been propelled by export-based industries are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, but it’s carbon footprint drops by almost a fifth when imports and exports are taken into consideration (Clark, 2). According to the PNAS article, “Global CO2 emissions from the production of exported products have increased from 4.3 Gt CO2 in 1990 (20% of global CO2 emissions) to 7.8 Gt CO2 in 2008 (26% of global CO2 emissions) (Table 1). This increase makes CO2 emissions from the production of exported products similar in magnitude to land-use change-related emissions (5). Moreover, from 1990 to 2008, emissions from the production of exported products grew 4.3% per year, faster than the growth in global population (1.4% per year), CO2 emissions (2.0% per year), GDP (3.6% per year), but slower than the dollar value of international trade (12% per year).” Because the data displays very significant increases in the amount of emissions from production of exported goods, it is prudent to follow which nations are producing the most. Further research indicates that the exporting countries are developing nations who sell their products at a low rate to developed nations and support these nations by allowing the outsourcing of companies on their land. The intense use of fossil fuels by China should in theory be propelling its own economy at exponential rates, however, because most of China’s efforts and jobs are geared towards exporting goods, the citizens and country itself does not receive the benefits of internal development. The industries involved in exporting goods make money, but there is little growth within the developing nation as well as the unmitigated perpetuation of pollution added to the atmosphere. U.S. companies such as Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and I.B.M. outsource to China, pay the local workers a fraction of the amount they would pay American workers, apply minimum safety regulations, and emit CO2 relentlessly due to the lax emissions contribution commitments the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol placed upon developing nations.

The IPCC created accounting rules where mitigation only applies to “greenhouse gas emissions and removals taking place within national territory and offshore areas over which the country has jurisdiction” (Peters et al, 1). This is a rather open-ended and incomplete assessment due to the fact that it does not take into consideration the linked economies related to international trade. In the PNAS study, the results show that the IPCC accounting rules of only reporting territorial emissions allow for countries to report stabilized emissions, but once global emissions associated with the developed countries and their consumption are taken into account, they are responsible for an increase in global emissions. These results contradict the territorial emissions statistics reported to the UNFCCC (Peters et al, 5). Because developed nations such as the U.S. import more products from developing nations, they are able to outsource their carbon footprint and global contribution, evade the commitment, and avoid the burden of being labeled as a polluter by the rest of the world.

Without considering the impact of importations and the flow of international emissions, the claim that the U.S. is reducing its share of global emissions is misleading. According to Clark, once the carbon cost of imports are added to each developed country, and exports subtracted, the increase in emissions contribution is 7%. If carbon costs are only calculated using territorial emissions in developed countries, the collective reduction of emission value is 2%. If the IPCC does not come up with a better, all-encompassing method of assessing global emissions, serious impacts of climate change may present itself in a more concentrated, destructive degree and within a shorter period of time.

Some challenges related to the consideration of consumption factors into accounting rules that exist today are implementation and monitoring. Implementing this system can prove to be difficult because of the complexity and nebulous nature of linked economies. International flows of emission are difficult to track, and there are many opportunities for corruption (e.g. hiding/destroying records of trade). Another issue with applying a consumption-based assessment is the arguable question of how much control government can have regarding trading services before infringing upon free-trade rights. Despite these challenges, the results are indicative of a great fallacy in the existing accounting rule implemented by the Kyoto Protocol. There is an urgent need to reconcile the discrepancies and to present more accurate emission statistics so the real matter at hand, climate change, can be addressed.

Given the fact that our world is rapidly falling under the influences of globalization, international trade is inevitable.  New York City is one of the greatest hubs of international products, and all commercial and residential groups rely heavily upon cheap goods from outsourced factories to run our service sectors.  As urban environmentalists, we must be cognizant of the environmental implications of our shopping habits.  This is a huge challenge as so many aspects of our daily life in this metropolis seem heavily reliant upon imported items, and extricating ourselves from it takes more than just eating local fruits and vegetables.  It also takes a lot of determination to change things at a structural level (an onerous task).  But I believe it is always better to be aware and educated than to live in ignorance.  Perhaps one day we can discover an antidote by understanding the issues that ail our culture, so long as we make an effort to think about them little by little every day.

 

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Green Careers + STEM: How They Relate

September 27th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) career fields, environmental careers are growing at a rapid pace.  Awareness of this torrential growth is important to prospective post-secondary students who may feel limited to the hyper competitive and super saturated conventional career tracts (doctor, lawyer, financier).  As the amount of resources at mankind’s disposal becomes more scarce, we will eventually require more professionals who understand the impact of our unsustainable attitude and actions towards the natural environment.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the acronym, STEM, here is a brief overview of its characteristics in our nation as reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration:

  • In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the United States, representing about 1 in 18 workers.
  • STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.
  • STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.
  • More than two-thirds of STEM workers have at least a college degree, compared to less than one-third of non-STEM workers.
  • STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.

Here are some statistics from a report done by My College Options® and STEMconnector® The student data used in this report is drawn primarily from My College Options’ annual survey of 5.5 million high school students, which covers 95% of U.S. high schools. The data for the STEM employment outlook and projections comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI):

Since 2004-within this sample group-overall interest in STEM majors and careers among high school seniors has increased by over 20%. Arguably the most concerning trend with students interested in STEM is the increasing gender-gap. Female students express STEM interest at 14.5% compared to 39.6% for their male counterparts. Since 2011, interest in STEM has grown and is projected to continue rising for Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and White students.

A sample breakdown of STEM:

This information provides a lot of insight into the opportunities that exist and are growing for a diverse array of conservation leaders to emerge and enter a “Green” job market so as to provide a stable foundation of environmental experts in the face of increasing demand for scientific and technical knowledge.

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For those of you who are interested in pursuing a “Green Career”, perhaps this FREE workshop at the New York University will help you find some direction.

 

Earth Day New York in conjunction with the NYU Office of Sustainability presents the

Work Green / Play Green
Sustainability Conference

NYU’s Global Center
238 Thompson St.
Thursday, November 14, 2013

 Free to attend.
(Free green giveaways to be provided!)

Earth Day New York in conjunction with the NYU Office of Sustainability is launching a new student engagement conference this year titled Work Green / Play Green.  It is being designed to provide students from NYU (numbering more than 40,000), and other schools, the opportunity to learn about ways they can pursue environmentally sustainable paths in both their professional and personal lives.  The conference will bring together a variety of sustainability professionals to engage with the NYU student community around Work Green / Play Green themes with a strong focus on how to make a lifelong commitment to sustainability through both work and lifestyle choices.

GREEN CAREER PANELS:  A series of panels will introduce students to various green careers and will include representatives from business, non-profits and government.  From government leaders to environmental attorneys and scientists to marketing specialists and corporate sustainability officers, students will have the opportunity to learn from and engage with professionals who have found a way to integrate and express their personal beliefs in their work.  Speakers will include Peter Lehner (Executive Director of NRDC), Andrew Revkin (writer for the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times), and many others.

GREEN LIFESTYLE EXHIBITS:  The exhibits will provide a platform for companies to engage the NYU community around a variety of sustainable products, services, and initiatives.  The all-day exhibition area will focus primarily on green lifestyle choices (e.g., green products, environmental advocacy campaigns) provided by participating companies and organizations, while the afternoon reception and career fair will publicize various green jobs and internships.

GREEN CAREER FAIR:  Employers with job and internship opportunities related to sustainability will be in attendance to provide information on their positions and talk to interested students about their career goals.

 

Sample timeline for the conference:

  • 9:30 – Exhibitor area opens
  • 9:30-10:15 – Panel 1:  Sustainability in the Non-Profit Field
  • 10:30-11:15 – Panel 2:  Sustainability in Government
  • 11:30-12:15 – Panel 3:  Sustainability in Business
  • 12:30-1:30 – Keynote Speaker
  • 1:30-3:00 – Networking reception and career fair
  • 3:00 – Closing remarks and exhibitor area closes

 

If you’d like to get involved as an exhibitor or panelist, contact John Oppermann at joppermann@earthdayny.org.  If you’d like to attend, register here.

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Homecoming @ QC

September 27th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Hello QUEENS COLLEGE,

Just wanted to let you know that Homecoming is coming up on October 20th. Students get to attend for free so “LIKE” the page (https://www.facebook.com/qchomecoming), register online (www.qc.cuny.edu/homecoming), and make sure to attend if you can!!! There will be a carnival and MORE…yeah.

Also, keep an eye out for our daffodil planting day, tree planting day, and a tentative visit to the Union Square Farmer’s Market!

Also, please join the Environmental Club’s FB page! [https://www.facebook.com/qc.environmentalclub1]
Songyi Ee
EC President

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Exposure First, Environmentalism Follows

September 18th, 2013 · Uncategorized

flower and building 557x556

 My previous post was a more poignant reflection on my first experiences in nature, this post is more practical in the sense that it provides concrete ideas to get out and do things in nature, right in New York City.

This blog post is one that I wrote for The Nature Conservancy‘s “Nature Rocks” website whose mission is to get kids outdoors.  As the conversation of increasing urbanization of the world pans out, it is important to ride the wave of this idea of “urban conservation.”  The best way to increase awareness and develop a positive environmentalist mentality is to get kids outdoors!!!

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Nature-hunting in the pandemonium that is New York City must be intentional and sometimes requires a little research, but the results are well worth it.

My experience as an inner-city high school intern, working with The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future Program (LEAF) on the Mashomack Preserve on Long Island, has taught me how to appreciate the natural, green environment, and how to be a land steward.

Because I was immersed in nature, I was able to return to New York City and see all of the trees, plants, birds, bugs, bodies of water, and more everywhere that I looked.   

I learned that there were shellfish beds and eel grass lining the coasts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.  I finally understood that the stinky marshlands in Jamaica Bay were not mere olfactory nuisances, but served a critical purpose as natural storm buffers.  My time spent out in nature with the LEAF Program opened my eyes to nature unseen in my city, and inspired me to seek ways to experience nature when I returned to urban life.

In New York City I found several programs, parks, and gardens in all five boroughs.

  • The Hudson Clearwater Sloop, which is an organization that works to engage the public with the history and science behind the Hudson River, takes kids on sails up and down the river-stopping occasionally to teach kids about invasive water chestnut plants and to measure oxygen levels in the water.
  • The East River has piers that allows for urban kayakers to paddle around the bay.
  • There are camping grounds on Staten Island with lakes that you can fish in.
  • The Bronx has Pelham Bay Park, where you can walk a nature trail and climb large boulders overlooking the water.
  • If you’re looking for something even more simple, you can take your kids to a local community garden.  There are several youth programs that run in these gardens, where children can grow their own plants and contribute their crops to the local food pantry. While I’m most familiar with New York City, I’m sure that similar natural areas and programs exist in many urban areas around the country.

Palpable and abundant exposure to the natural environment can enrich and enlighten kids by helping them identify and appreciate urban nature throughout their lives. Seeking out nature in the city allows me to continually appreciate it and desire to protect it, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

You can find my full article with The Nature Conservancy here: http://www.naturerocks.org/finding-nature-in-new-york-city.xml

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Nature in New York City

September 10th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Wood Thrush can be found in moist, deciduous woodlands with a thick understory; also well-planted parks and gardens.

 More often than not, city-slickers disregard or seem to be unaware of the existing presence of a natural environment in urban settings.  I personally have had such reservations, and cannot be exempt from this phenomenon.  Nature as we know it—the mountains, the rivers, the quiet streams, the sand, the bugs, the fresh air—were all entities that appeared to be sealed up and taken far, far away from me—a kid growing up in New York City.

My interactions with patches of grass, dry, clay-like dirt, and sparsely planted trees were relegated to the confines of my twelve-by-twelve patch of grass called a“backyard”.  Every summer, I was able to visit my aunt in the boondocks of Pennsylvania. These intermittent encounters of rural life became the foundations for some of my very first “interactions” with nature.  My aunt had a deer in her backyard, and a trail leading into the woods.  I observed birds and bunnies from a distance, and was fascinated by their aesthetic qualities.  Another instance of  experiencing “nature” was in South Korea, when my mother and I hiked a mountain.  As one can imagine, my definition and understanding of nature had been rather fragmented and irrelevant to me because it was always something I had to visit outside of the city.

As I grew older, my desire to unearth more ways to discover nature in my immediate vicinity grew stronger. However, my doubts of how such a concrete jungle could ever be home to biodiversity loomed large.  Today, I am amazed at how much nature we can actually find in this city.

I must have taken a stroll around Central Park over forty different times in my life but only just recently participated in my first bird walk with The Nature Conservancy this spring.  I saw warblers, gray catbirds, barn swallows, house wren, and more. The sheer number of different birds that I saw truly shocked me.  I had never noticed so many different birds in a city park before.

Human beings are fascinating creatures because we can adapt and acclimate ourselves to the most foreign of ideas or situations.  Somehow, we have managed to create and maintain urban parks, rooftop gardens, and community gardens.  We learned to clean and steward waterways, beaches, and wet lands for recreation and resilience against destructive natural events.  There are so many opportunities to engage ourselves with nature, while simultaneously learning how relevant our actions and lifestyles are to the health of the natural ecosystems around our seemingly artificial environment.

Nature is all around us in New York City.  You just need to know exactly where to look and what to look for.  Just like interpreting the complicated MTA weekend construction track change announcements, or navigating the streets that become names, not numbers in downtown Manhattan, New Yorkers need to focus and be intentional in their pursuit of nature in the city.

 

 

 

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