All posts by Jacob Fertig

CitySeed – Final Project Reflection

Everything came together and CitySeed launched our first event on April 21st in preparation for Earth Day 2016! It was amazing to spend time with NYU peers planting microgreens and basil in up-cycled dining hall containers. We had a solid attendance; even Peter and the Dean of Tisch, Allyson Green, came and planted #CitySeeds! A reflection and photo slideshow of our first event is available on the home page of our website!

cityseedaltdesignOur website highlights our inspiration for starting the company, as well as instructions for making your own #CitySeed, and a little about us and our mission. You can contact us through the website as well.

It has been a long journey to see our company blossom (botany pun). We are so thankful for our classmates and Peter for all of the positive feedback and tips you have shared with us! Thank you so much!

Co-Founders, Skyye James and Jacob Fertig
CitySeed Co-Founders, Skyye James and Jacob Fertig

Skyye James (my co-founder) and I believe our company will continue to host events and develop our products! We are looking to speak with the NYU Office of Sustainability over the summer and plan ahead for next fall. In the mean time, check out our website for updates and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Microgreens
Our microgreens in up-cycled containers

 

 

Update – CitySeed Launch

My CitySeed co-founder, Skyye James, and I are in the midst of planning a launch event on April 21st (in preparation for Earth Day)! We have been working on a program to run at Brittany Hall, the freshman dorm on Broadway and 10th Street. The program’s main activity will be planting CitySeeds with each resident that attends. We will be monitoring the CitySeed growth these participants see through the social media hashtag #MyCitySeed. Students will share pictures of their healthy plants before the semester concludes.

We also had our first photo shoot to begin building our website with original media content.

CitySeed
CitySeed

We started planting microgreens and basil, which usually begin to sprout in 5-10 days! We will keep you updated with plenty of pictures and videos!

Follow us on social media! Our Instagram AND Twitter handle is @cityseednyc ! We will definitely follow back!

In my last blog post I shared pictures from the experimental film I had been working on. Well, I’m finally done and the I’d love it if you could watch and share it! I want my kids to grow up in a nuclear free world, and I hope this film will make more people agree with me!

 

The (Nuclear) Power of Art Activism

After seeing the phenomenal documentary Racing Extinction, and hearing George Pakenham speak and screen his film “Idle Threat”, I began looking at my own role in art activism. I’m in film school to tell the stories I’m most interested in; this means climate change should be a theme in my work. I reflected on all of my previous blog posts to get inspiration for a short film I could make in my spare time. In the end I chose to further explore my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy” through stop motion photography. As I brainstormed ideas, I thought about my favorite scenery in and around New York. I immediately thought of Rockaway Beach, where I spend many of my summer days, and Bear Mountain, where I go to escape the city and work up a sweat hiking. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose toxins and contaminates with the beauty of nature. Clearly I wouldn’t be using real nuclear waste in my film, so I thought Holi powder would be an interesting visual stand-in for toxins. I began shooting stills on Rockaway Beach and Bear Mountain with these powders.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain
Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

I focused on hands at first to play with the concept of a foreign, toxic substance in direct contact with the human body. I went on to take photographs of faces and entire bodies covered in these saturated hues.

 

 

 

I’m still working on finishing and uploading my film online. I want to make it easily accessible to spread awareness about the harm of exposure to nuclear toxins. As I mentioned in my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy,” scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer (National Cancer Institute).

This issue extends beyond the 1960s, because nuclear power is still widely used all over the world, and nuclear weapons are being manufactured by powerful governments. Once nuclear energy is created, we are left to deal with the disposal of the waste. There is no proven way of disposing of this waste without eventually harming living organisms. So, if we don’t have a solution to deal with this toxic waste, why are we relying on nuclear energy for our power and nuclear weapons for defense?

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

 

Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test
Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please look out for next blog post, in which I will link my short experimental documentary! I would really appreciate if you shared my film so it can gain some attention before Earth Day on April 22nd!

This is A Growing Problem

What can we live without? We can live without television, or the internet (both relatively new inventions). We can live without organic foods, our daily cup of coffee, we can even live without a permanent home. So, what do we need for survival? Food, clean water, and some form of shelter from the elements. Overpopulation complicates the distribution of these human necessities. Although the effects of overpopulation aren’t as apparent in North America, the lack of clean drinking water and food effects millions of people globally.

This National Geographic video concisely explains the exponential human population growth and the problems we may face because of it. Before watching this video, I imagined that overpopulation would mean there would be no more land to occupy. It may be because I’m from New York, but I already feel claustrophobic amongst the present population of 7.4 billion people. I learned in the video that every human on Earth could stand shoulder-to-shoulder within the confines of Los Angeles. Living space isn’t as much of a global issue as energy, food, and water are. The National Geographic video (released in 2010) said that 5% of humans consume 23% of the world’s energy. It’s actually not so hard to believe; I’m sitting in an air conditioned, well-lit room, charging my phone and laptop. It gets worse; the amount of energy consumed by the average American is going up. The US uses 100 quadrillion BTUs (105 exajoules) per year, 3x its consumption in 1950. If we are using more energy to light our buildings, cool and heat our air and water, and power our electronics, where is this energy coming from? 7.30% of the energy Americans use is renewable (solar/wind/geothermal). The other 92.7% of energy is nuclear, petroleum, coal, and gas. These energy sources are not renewable, so they will eventually run out. With a growing birth rate and a slower mortality rate, our population will continue to grow, as will the dependence on energy. What could happen when we have no more coal or gas energy? Will we depend solely on the more sustainable energy sources, like wind and solar?

the choice between non-renewable and renewable energy sources
The choice between non-renewable and renewable energy sources

Energy is a hard subject for me to think about. I’m privileged in the sense that I’ve never been without power for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, the total number of individuals without electric power is put at about 1.5 billion, or a quarter of the world’s population, concentrated mostly in Africa and southern Asia. This statistic creates a problem for me. I can’t figure out if supplying energy to every human being is even a good thing, because much of our energy is non-renewable and incredibly harmful to the Earth.  The best solution may be for most developed countries to transition to 75%-100% renewable energy, while supplying underdeveloped parts of  Africa and Southern Asia with solar panels, which costs less and could work well in these hot and sunny climates. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but we can learn to share it better and increase the quality of life for our growing population.

 

City Seed – Greenery for the Concrete Jungle

Just because you don’t have a lawn or garden doesn’t mean you have to live separate from plant life!  I’m working with Skyye James to launch a company called City Seed, which brings plant life and all its benefits to dorms and apartments across big cities like New York.

Skyye mentioned in her blog post that plants filter out our air through photosynthesis.  Now imagine the impact of placing one medium sized plant in every dorm and apartment in New York!  We could begin the process of reducing CO2 emissions just by surrounding ourselves with luscious greenery!

City Seed Advertisement Logo
City Seed Advertisement Logo

What makes City Seed unique?  We are using 100% up-cycled containers to package our seeds.  This means our plants can live comfortably in the containers they sprout in, and when they get bigger, the customers can choose to transplant them to a larger containers for the plants to thrive longer!

The first product we plan on testing in our up-cycled containers on sunny windowsills is lavender.  Lavender has a lot of health benefits, including decreasing stress through aromatherapy and healing minor burns.  I grow lavender at home in a large pot by my window, and the distinct aroma travels all over the house!  Best of all, it’s proven to relieve headaches, burns, insomnia, stress, and much more!

Lavender in small container
Lavender in small container

Imagine if college freshmen had a natural stress reliever in their dorm rooms!  And it doesn’t end with lavender.  We are hoping to trial various other plants with stress-reducing and ailment-relieving benefits, like peppermint and chamomile!

Lastly, City Seed teaches young adults about small scale agriculture, a very important skill to have.  We live in an age where much of our food is imported and/or genetically modified for color, shape, and a longer shelf life.  By learning how to grow your own plants with help from our instructions, up-cycled containers and awesome soil mix, you can understand what natural agriculture looks like.  Believe me when I say it’s rewarding to see the organism that you tend to, thriving!

My biggest task going forward will be the media for our company!  I’m planning on creating a short video advertisement and how-to video for growing our seeds at home!  I would also like to create a Twitter and Instagram account for our company to reach out to young people living in small spaces within big cities.

I’m beginning to take a look at a bunch of short videos about planting lavender so I can decide what is most important to show customers as well as decide the best way to show it!

We can’t wait to bring #CitySeed to your windowsill.

Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy

I began thinking about all the waste we produce and where it all ends up. You can imagine that the answer is really obvious– landfills, sewer systems, the ocean, etc. Then I started questioning which kinds of waste aren’t necessarily visible to the average consumer. One of these less tangible pollutants to affect our land is the nuclear bomb test. That’s right! According to nuclearweaponarchive.org, “between 16 July 1945 and 23 September 1992 the United States of America conducted (by official count) 1054 nuclear tests, and two nuclear attacks. The number of actual nuclear devices (aka “bombs”) tested, and nuclear explosions is larger than this, but harder to establish precisely.”

Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946
Nuclear Bomb Test

So, we know from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WWII with the Pacific, that nuclear weapon radiation exposure is extremely lethal and still affects the land and people living off of it for generations. But can underground bomb tests affect our soil, and eventually us? Of course it can, and it has. The National Cancer Institute website posted a study showing the effect nuclear bomb tests have on us. I highly suggest reading the full report for a deeper understanding, but here is an excerpt to sum it up:

 

Fizeau Test, Nevada Test Site, July 1957

“Scientists estimate that the larger amounts of I-131 (radioactive form of iodine–called iodine-131) from the Nevada test site fell over some parts of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana. But I-131 traveled to all states, particularly those in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Northeastern United States. Some of the I-131 collected on pastures and on grasses. Depending on the location, grazing cows and goats sometimes consumed contaminated grasses resulting in I-131 collecting in the animals’ milk. Much of the health risk associated with I-131 occurred among milk-drinkers–usually children. From what is known about thyroid cancer and radiation, scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer.”                            –National Cancer Institute

Is having the most deadly nuclear weapon in the world worth a spike in childhood cancer? Are these tests absolutely necessary? And will these highly lethal radioactive substances ever decompose in a safe way? I live in a post WWII country, where the U.S. isn’t necessarily trying to grow our nuclear weapon arsenal. It’s been said we’ve actively tried over the last decade or so to decrease our nuclear warfare arsenal. Have we learned that the damage cannot be undone? Generations to come will suffer the consequences of actions taken by scientists in the 40s, 50s, and 60s who poisoned the Earth and all its inhabitants.

School kids drinking milk
School kids drinking milk

How New York Failed Its Air Quality Test

Manhattan received a D rating for “High Ozone Days” from the American Lung Association. This grade is calculated by measuring the amount of days in which the air was more polluted than usual. If a county has a weighted average of 0, it receives an A. Receiving a D means Manhattan has a weighted average of 2.1 – 3.2, or 7-9 days over the standard pollution levels.

So how do we get a better grade? One way is to greatly reduce the amount of cars on the road. The issue is that we depend on cars to get to work. Many professionals that work in Manhattan drive in from the outer boroughs, emitting CO2 and polluting the air we breathe. Although hundreds of thousands already rely on our subway system because of the heavy road traffic, it’s unimaginable that New Yorkers will choose to stop driving their minivans.

Factory Smokestack
Factory Smokestack

But what if those New Yorkers faced the facts that air pollution isn’t a concept, it affects our health each and every day. There are roughly 1.6 million Manhattan residents. According to the American Lung Association, more than 21,000 children in New York live with asthma, as do 135,743 adults. Almost 112,000 people have been diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases in Manhattan alone. These health conditions are often linked to the air quality we have. Although scientists and doctors cannot attribute a person’s asthma or cardiovascular disease to one decisive element like air pollution, it has been inferred that the relation definitely exists. It brings to mind the studies talked about in Merchants of Doubt, in which tobacco could not be proven to cause a specific case of lung cancer, but it’s the most logical cause for the huge spike in lung cancer worldwide. Furthermore, the air quality of an entire city is not as isolated as some cigarette smoke. The air that we pollute can travel many miles to neighboring states and countries, affecting millions of people.

NYU Langone
NYU Langone

There are small changes we can make to decrease air pollution, like only driving an energy-efficient car when absolutely necessary. We can ride bikes more, and petition to take older, polluting NYC buses out of transit. We can push to reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals released from our factories. Lastly, we can plant trees and greenery that soak up CO2 we create. The world looks to our generation for these changes.

A World Without Water

After watching Josh Fox’s Gasland, I began comparing the effects of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to Flint’s current water crisis, in which a series of chemicals, most notably lead, has poisoned the citizens of Flint ever since Gov. Snyder swapped Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the heavily-polluted Flint River. Governor Snyder has been criticized for making this change to save Michigan some money, though he was fully aware of the contamination in the Flint River. Activists like filmmaker Michael Moore have demanded government intervention and the resignation and investigation of Gov. Snyder.

This New York Times article helped me comprehend the timeline of the Flint water crisis. Thinking about the crisis has sparked thoughts for me about how much clean water will be left for the next generation. Lake Huron is the fifth largest freshwater lake in the world. Our fresh water gets recycled through the natural water cycle, but the introduction of toxic chemicals to our fresh water greatly reduces the amount of water safe for consumption. In a world in which millions don’t have access to clean water, it’s remarkable to me that Flint residents, who live close to Lake Huron, are subjected to drinking tainted water. It’s equally unfathomable that natural gas corporations are poisoning fresh water from the water table, blasting it into the Earth, and then allowing toxic waste to seep back into the water table, and eventually, into the faucets of millions of homes.

Courtesy of ACLU Michigan
Courtesy of ACLU Michigan

According to a Forbes article about the Flint water crisis, a further problem is that the less developed blood-brain barrier in young children allows more lead to enter the developing nervous system, contributing to life-long neurologic sequela. Protecting pregnant women from lead exposure is thus critical for their babies. Children retain about 1/3 of absorbed lead, and it is retained in their bones, so blood levels may actually underestimate exposure. The best thing we can do now is push for legislation banning hydraulic fracturing and demand the routine inspections of pipes and water sources that connect to our nation’s faucets. If we remain ahead of the game rather than ignore the problem, there won’t be another community sickened by their own water.

 

Banning the Microbead

In May of 2015 I came across a NY Times article that struck me, titled “Fighting Pollution From Microbeads Used in Soaps and Creams.”  In an instant I began to see the face scrubs and toothpaste tubes in my own house as threats to our marine life.  Prior to reading this article, I didn’t see how a problem could arise from minuscule tiny beads that exfoliate our skin and scrub our teeth clean.  After reading, I began to realize just how many people use these products, and where all these plastic balls went after we use them.  They’re too small to be filtered out of our drains, and so they head right into the ocean, where they are consumed by fish; the same fish we catch and eat.  At the end of the day, no one can make the argument that we NEED these microbeads for exfoliating our skin and brushing our teeth. Maybe the CEOs of Colgate, Neutrogena, and Crest can find an argument, but a little legislation can set them straight.

 

Microbeads Cartoon
Microbeads Cartoon

You may have heard that the Obama Administration has recently banned plastic microbeads in our products. CNN sums it up nicely here.  So, how will we clean our pores now? When I found out about this issue back in May, I did what any worried consumer might do– I refused to continue buying products with microbeads. Instead I made my own soaps and toothpaste. I put leftover coffee grounds into my homemade soap to substitute the microbeads. I continue to use my coffee exfoliate soap and feel much better using a product that will decompose underwater and pose no threat to our marine life.

Here are the ingredients and proportions for my coffee soap:

    • 4 oz Canola Oil
    • 4 oz shea butter
    • 8 oz Coconut Oil
    • 8 oz Olive Oil
    • 0.5 oz Vitamin E
    • 8 oz Hydrogenated Soybean Oil (Crisco)
    • 3 oz coffee grounds
    • 12 fl oz Water or strong coffee
    • 4.5 oz Lye (sodium hydroxide)

(I strongly suggest doing your research before attempting to make soap. You must be very cautious when working with Lye!)

New Perspectives in Poland

Over the Winter break I spent nine days exploring various cities and towns in Poland. The weather was surprisingly sunny, but the temperature was well below what I’m used to in New York. It stayed between 3 and 18 degrees throughout the trip. Although I was all over the country, the weather was consistent.  What struck me the most was the energy efficiency of the hotels we stayed at and the venues we explored. The lights in the hallways were off unless you were walking through them, as the sensors would detect you. You had to leave your key in a slot by the door so the power in your hotel room would work; this way you wouldn’t waste any energy when you took your key out of the slot and left the room. There were no disposable shampoo and conditioner bottles in sight. I’ve been all over America and haven’t seen anything like this!

Focus Hotel Energy-Efficient Bathroom in Lublin, Poland
Focus Hotel Energy-Efficient Bathroom in Lublin, Poland

The TED Talk with Garth Lenz was fascinating for two reasons. The first was simply finding out about the dirtiest oil and how it poses threats to some our most beautiful and important biomes. The second was comparing what Lenz predicted for 2015 in the 2011 video to what we are experiencing now. The keystone XL pipeline proposal that’s been around for years was rejected this past year by President Obama. I believe we are heading in a better direction than predicted in 2011, but there is plenty of work to do in order to restore all that we’ve sacrificed for our own convenience.

I also read an intriguing article from a NASA astronaut that was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He writes briefly about his new perspective on the work he does, now that his time on Earth is significantly shortened. I thought this perspective was a great addition to my trip to Poland. It felt a bit paradoxical for hotels to be so concerned with energy efficiency in a country where millions of people were murdered during the Holocaust. Even in a place where I felt surrounded by death, it was refreshing to know that the establishments I visited were making a conscious effort to create a more sustainable future.

Warsaw Cemetery
Warsaw Cemetery