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July 01, 2015
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Mixed Greens

The more things change...

I’m enjoying a fascinating book by Bill Bryson called “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” The home in question is a Victorian vicarage in southern England, which serves as Bryson’s springboard to explore the evolution of ideas, customs and technologies that affect daily life right down to our own time. For example, the chapter on the dining room explains the origins of the word “luncheon,”  Read more

Buyer beware

Over the past few weeks, American homeowners have learned that millions of square feet of laminated flooring manufactured in China and sold by Lumber Liquidators contain levels of formaldehyde many times higher than the safety standard set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a standard that will become federal law later this year.  Read more

Health, climate and poverty

I’m a long time allergy sufferer, and my sinuses serve as a barometer signaling changes in air pressure and as a weathervane announcing the arrival of exotic pollens borne on southerly winds. Moldy buildings activate an early-warning system of sneezes and watery eyes. Mold is a key long-term problem associated with the heavier rains and increased flooding caused by climate change, so I always listen up when the health impacts of global warming are discussed.  Read more

Dream house

I suppose most of us carry around a mental notion of the perfect house. I can’t remember a time when this idea wasn’t percolating somewhere in my consciousness, starting with childhood memories leafing through design magazines with my mother. We sketched numerous “perfect” houses over the years, just for fun, and exchanged photographs and floor plans, but I can’t recall that we ever thought about energy bills. Nowadays, I revisit the notion of the perfect house with my husband, especially during a tough winter.  Read more

Pondering ‘the public interest’

The PBS program NYNow created a furor last week with an opinion poll on the Constitution Pipeline that asked: “Should public interest override a private landowner’s control over their property?” As many outraged respondents noted, the premise of the question is seriously biased. Since the pipeline will perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuel and facilitate the export of natural gas for private profit, the assumption that it represents “the public interest” is highly debatable.  Read more

Happy New Year! What’s next?

The holidays were especially festive at my house as we celebrated Gov. Cuomo’s decision to direct the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop rules banning the use of high volume hydrofracking statewide. It’s been a long campaign with a steep learning curve, as we gathered the irrefutable evidence that fracking is dangerous to our health and the long-term safety of the environment, that the petroleum industry has exaggerated the economic potential of shale while ignoring the environmental costs, and that state agencies echoed those exaggerated claims without independent analysis.  Read more

Wish list

Christmas is a time for connecting with what we truly value, made tangible in our gatherings with family and friends, our nostalgia for holidays past and the renewal of hope for the future. As we enjoy this brief vacation from everyday cynicism, I confess that I am shamelessly susceptible to classic holiday movies, those sentimental cultural touchstones with their timeless themes of family, community, faith and doubt, usually framed in the emotional journeys of beloved characters who desperately need to change their lives.  Read more

Sustaining our communities

It’s a bit of a bummer that the Thanksgiving season coincides each year with the formulation of our municipal budgets. While most of us are planning the menu for family gatherings, our town boards are crunching numbers and losing sleep trying to control expenses while ensuring continuity of the basic services that keep us safe.  Read more

Bigger or better?

Over the past decade or so, I have heard many variations on the theme that the American way of life is one of plenitude and that asking Americans to change how they live is somehow un-American. These arguments peaked in 2001 as Congress debated renewed CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for fuel efficiency, and the Bush Administration unveiled an energy policy that stressed expanded fossil fuel supply and cut Department of Energy funding for energy efficiency research by 29%.  Read more

Science and sensibility

I got some shocked questions recently from friends horrified by gruesome reports of birds fatally burned mid-air at a solar energy facility in the Mohave Desert. Buried in the news coverage was the fact that this was not a conventional photovoltaic (PV) array, but rather a solar thermal installation using concentrated solar power (CSP). The plant deploys 300,000 garage door-size mirrors that concentrate sunlight to boil water in three 40-story towers, producing steam for turbines that generate electricity.  Read more