Tag Archives: energy

“There’s No Honor In Waste” -Samara Swanston

Last Wednesday, October 12th, I was invited to join Peter and the core engine exhaust group for lunch. The group included George Pakenham, Isabella B. Silverman, Samara Swanston, Karl Storchmann, Peter, and myself. The afternoon comprised of an extremely productive and informative anti-idling campaign meeting, vigorous note taking on my end for my midterm and final project, and the icing on the cake was Peter covering my meal. Thank you again Peter!

In order to get a clearer idea of who all these people are that Peter and I met with, here is what they all do. George  is the notorious man-on-emissions; an environmental activist who focuses on idling and who made the film, Idle Threat (website: http://www.verdantvigilante.com/about/george.html). Isabella B. Silverman is also an environmental activist who starred in George’s film Idle Threat. Samara Swanston “is currently the legislative counsel to the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council and an Adjunct Professor at the Pratt Institute Graduate School for Urban Planning and the Environment” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/swanston-samara-80923356). Lastly, Karl Storchmann is an NYU professor of Urban Economics who’s found a great response rate from his students when offering extra credit to report idling in NYC.

Samara Swanston built off this idea to give extra credit to students but in greater detail. She said it is imperative to write an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to a government agency with the focus being on an environmental and public issue, as these issues impact everyone breathing the air in New York City. Samara ended her input with a new quote; “There is no honor in waste.”

Additional information I was given during lunch was that Karl has a youtube channel called “Idle NYC,” which closely resembles our first blog post assignment when Peter asked us to go notice idling and post some pictures or videos. Also, summer months such as June and July appear to be the peak times of year for idling due to higher demand for comfort and stronger air conditioning. What is more interesting is that idling in the summer heat and keeping the air conditioning on actually puts out even more heat into the atmosphere than the colder months of the year because the tailpipes get much hotter in the summer sun.

To wrap up our meeting, Samara and Isabella gave me two very important names to keep in mind and to share with friends, colleagues, and environmental activists. Thomas M Chan is the Chief of Transportation for the NYPD and Inspector Michael Pilecki, a commanding officer of traffic enforcement for the NYPD. Samara and Isabella told me to pass on these names to my peers and cohorts because these are the guys to write complaints to in order for something to be done in terms of law enforcement for idling in NYC. I imagine it is more productive to approach this from the top down than the other way around so that our voices have a greater chance of being noticed and heard. The most important factor in all of this is to vigorously stay on these guys and overwhelm them with complaints until something is done. Otherwise, they’re more likely to not take notice that people actually care about this crucial law and the detrimental impact it has on our environment.

Photo credit goes to our awesome waiter who’s name I did not get but I wish I had!

Me and Isabella B. Silverman, environmental activist and star of Idle Threat.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George Pakenham.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George (of the *concrete* jungle) Pakenham. 

Love me some black Mercedes lung (just kidding…)

On my walk to class this morning, I made a quick stop at Liquiteria for my favorite smoothie, Bulldozer with added strawberries and blueberries.  While waiting for my order, I looked out the window and instead of the usual dog walkers and cabs flying down 6th Ave, I saw a beautiful black C 700 Mercedes Benz waiting out front. I remembered this assignment and decided to go outside to get a closer look to see whether or not the driver was idling. Sure enough, she was texting on her phone with the AC on.  I snapped the photo above and got her license plate number and she was sitting on the corner of W 8th and 6th Ave.  It made me feel like a detective (a secret dream of mine since I was a kid) so I think I’m gonna keep this up.  Unfortunately, idling is destructive and in no way do I hope to see more of it occur. However if it does, I plan on staying aware and taking action.


FINAL – The Lazy Person’s Guide To Eco-Friendliness

New York is dirty, there is trash everywhere on the streets, it constantly smells like fumes, yet people continue to be very set in their own ways.  All of these New York factors have somehow made me even more environmentally conscious throughout the years.  The fact that so many of these issues are prominent around us in our daily lives should make us feel the urgency to act upon cleaning up our surroundings: or at least slow down its pollution.

The air that humans breathe in cities is polluted by running vehicles, fossil fuels, and manufacturing chemicals.  There are pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, black carbon, and dust. These are terrible pollutants that are the cause for many cancer cases and a 6% annual death rate in NYC.  With the average adult breathing in over 3,000 gallons of air every day it is frightening that people still persist in believing that pollution is a myth.

In order to slowly bring people to the realization of the situation, I want to show them small steps to becoming eco-friendly in an urban household in an environment such as New York.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people do want to be “green” but often think that they do not have the tools, the knowledge, or the up-bringing to do so.  

Growing up, I was not taught about simple eco-friendly habits and now that I am older and live on my own, I have found it difficult to get into a routine of being environmentally conscious and sometimes think that the information I find on the internet is not direct enough in telling me how to help the planet.

To help people like me, and to make their lives easier, I have created a series of quick videos demonstrating simple household tricks for those interested in helping the environment just by making a couple of small changes in their lifestyle.  Every seemingly minor action can have an enormous effect on the larger picture of cleaning our environment if we all learn to incorporate eco-friendly actions into our daily life.


To calculate my results, I measured in subscriber numbers on my YouTube channel. To spread awareness about the project, I posted about it on my Facebook and asked people to share my channel with anyone they may know. I also contacted my friends who live in different states or even countries to ask them to tell their friends about it, and to subscribe if they enjoyed it or found it to be helpful. I wanted to spread awareness about my channel organically and through word of mouth, because that’s when people tend to pay the most attention. This process took place over the course of 2 weeks. The result is:

The Lazy Person’s Guide To Eco-Friendliness YouTube Channel

Future Plans:

In the future, I would like to continue The Lazy Person’s Guide To Eco-Friendliness in order to cover more environmental topics. I got a positive response from people in the comments section who liked that so much information was packed into such a short video. The efficiency of the project made them want to see more and I hope to continue growing the channel.  


Sources For Facts In Videos:

“8 Ways To Help Save The Planet” – LEAF

“50 Ways To Help The Planet” – Wire & Twine

“8 Eco-Friendly Bathroom Hacks” – BuzzFeed




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!

Update: Indian Point Plant

As mentioned, Tucker and I’s interview with Alfred Meyer went very well. We have reviewed the footage and though we will have to cut it down considerably (we have almost 25 minutes of interview for our 5-10 minute documentary) we got a ton of great information. But unfortunately we did not take any production stills. Alfred did wear the same outfit as he did during his talk about Fukushima, so the photo below is good reference. Additionally the bookcase in the second photo is the same one in Alfred’s apartment which used for our interview backdrop.


Alfred Meyer at the “Global Health and Environment in the Post-2015 Agenda Talk.



Alfred Meyer’s reference photo for the Physicians for Social Responsibility webpage.

Additionally my wonderful partner Tucker Pearson was able to attend an event sponsored by  Stop the Algonquin Pipeline (SAPE) where protestors addressed a variety of environmental issues. The event particularly revolved around the current implementation of a natural gas pipeline which will be installed less than 105 feet away from Indian Point infrastructure. Alfred Meyer touched briefly on this new development in Indian Point’s dangerous  history. Today, concerned citizens and activists alike gathered to draw attention to this pipeline (which many experts have asserted could lead to a nuclear disaster equal to or greater than to Fukushima meltdown of 2011.)  At the event Tucker shot B-roll of the Indian Point power plant itself, filmed some of the anti-nuclear power talks, and spoke to local activists. Here is some behind the scene footage of Tucker’s adventure:


The crowd at the SAPE2016 Event.


Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River.


This cute doggie calls for the shutdown of Indian Point. 



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.


Green World gets a Snapchat

I have been thinking about what to do for my final project since this course began back in January. Ever since I started learning about the horrible state of the environment, I have been paying much closer attention to the circumstances around me. That got me questioning…How green is NYU?

When researching the greenest college campus in the United States, I found that NYU was not any of the lists compiled by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  I then started thinking about all the different aspects of college life that I witness on a day to day basis that could be improved and made greener. There’s a lot of stigma around the phrase “going green” as it implies some sort of lesser standard of living where a huge sacrifice has to be made.  But that is not at all the case.   People are simply afraid of change, especially in college, where students sometimes forget to feed themselves let alone find time to worry about how “green” their habits are.

I took on a different form of research: field research, which involved going around and observing.  A simple walk around my dorm building made me realize several issues that could be easily fixed to make our campus greener and more sustainable.  If I begin with my room, I can already point out two problems:  The heater is always on in every room that I go into, and the lights are always on, even when people aren’t home.  If we go to the bathroom, my roommate, for example, leaves the shower on for thirty minutes before he goes into the shower.  The hallway?  Lights are on 24 hours a day.  The trash room? Recycling and compost are always mixed.  The dining hall?  Palladium salad bowls are non-recyclable and all take-out boxes are non-reusable.  Transport? NYU buses leaving every ten minutes leaves a huge carbon print on the city. NYU does indeed go a long way to try and stay green in a metropolitan city like New York, but there’s a long way to go .

So this a problem to say the least.  The question becomes, how are we going to call people’s attention to it.  I think the most effective way to get messages across in modern day is through social media.  So I thought it would really fun and engaging if I began a Green World snapchat, where I take followers on day to day adventures of living on a college campus.  The aim is to point out simple errors that we collectively make and furthermore simple solutions to make our school a greener one. The tone will be humorous and light to keep people my age interested.

Add me @greenworldnyu to follow my adventures around NYU green life
Add me @greenworldnyu to follow my adventures around NYU green life

The goal would be to get NYU on the list of greenest universities, and while that might take some time, there is no reason we can’t start future green world students on the right track now.

Another really great perk to the Green World snapchat is it is a great way to showcase other classmates’ projects as well.  Not only would it help them get their idea across to more people, but also would provide my project with more areas to look into.
So, here is the snapchat.  This might sound like shameless advertising, but add me!


Understanding Heat Exchange

I had a really excellent science teacher for 9th grade “Integrated Science” class. Her name is Kathy and the thing that’s stuck with me most from her class (besides the Photosynthesis Song) is our unit on heat.

Heat transfer is shockingly simple; there are a few equations and constants which govern the exchange of all thermal energy. It’s incredibly useful to have a good understanding of heat transfer in your daily life. Here are some key terms:

calorie The amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. Calorie (with capital C) means Kilocalorie, or 1000 calories. Kilocalories are the units used to measure the energy contained in food. One calorie is 4.185 Joules.
phase change When matter transitions to a different form due to addition or subtraction of heat energy. The forms of phase change are boiling, freezing, melting, evaporation, and sublimation.
convection A form of heat transfer in which heat moves through a medium (like air). For example, an oven or forced air heating system rely on convection.
conduction A form of heat transfer where heat moves through an object. When your teaspoon heats up after being immersed in a hot beverage, this is an example of conduction.
radiation A form of heat transfer in which waves of infrared light transmit heat to the surface of an object. When the sun heats up the surface of your car, this is radiation.
conservation of energy In a closed system under normal circumstances, energy is never created or destroyed. This is a fundamental law of physics. This means that heat never disappears, it simply moves around. From this, we may infer that heat lost must equal heat gained. For example: As your cup of tea cools down, the mug, saucer, and air in the room become warmer.
specific heat capacity The amount of energy a particular material can store. Water has a specific heat capacity of 1 calorie per gram; Aluminum is more like 0.2 calories per gram.
temperature The average heat of the particles which make up a substance. Measured in degrees.
heat The total amount of thermal energy contained in a substance. If you have a bucket and a cup of water, both at 20°C, they have the same temperature but the bucket has much more heat because its mass is greater.
Q=MCΔT  That weird triangle thing is the Greek letter delta, which is scientific shorthand for change or difference. This is the fundamental heat transfer equation. Heat (Q) is equal to the mass of the sample (m) multiplied by the specific heat capacity of the sample (C) multiplied by the change in temperature (ΔT).

Say you want to know how much energy it takes for your freezer to make an ice cube. Q, the amount of energy, is our unknown. Assume the mass of our water is 100mL, and its current temperature is  23°C (we want to bring it down to 0). Since water’s specific heat capacity is 1 calorie per gram, this makes the math really easy. Q = (100gr)X(1cal/gr)(23°) = 230cal.

I’ve noticed that many people have trouble grasping the fact that liquid water can never (under standard atmospheric conditions) get hotter than its boiling point of 100°C. Assume you have a pot of water simmering on the stove at 100°C. If you turn up the heat all the way, the water will not get hotter, it will simply evaporate more quickly.

A real life example: Some friends of mine live in an apartment with old-fashioned radiators for heat. They were concerned that paper or other flammable items placed near the radiator might combust due to its heat— this seems like a sensible fire safety precaution. But since the radiators use heated water and/or steam to distribute heat, it can never get hot enough to cause a fire. Feel free to store your books on the radiator— but don’t try this with any other form of heating device! Counterintuitively, radiators do not employ radiation to transfer heat. Instead, heat is transferred from the hot water to the metal pipes via conduction which in turn heats the air through convection.

Imagine you have a container full of hot steam and a thermometer. You put the container into the freezer, and check the temperature every minute or so. If you were to plot the time and temperature on a graph, you’d get something like this:


When the line is flat, the system is undergoing a phase change. While the phase change is in progress, the temperature does not change because all the energy is being used in the phase change. Once the phase change is complete, the temperature will continue to change until the next phase is reached. The system reaches equilibrium when the stuff inside the container is the same temperature as the environment outside the container.

Ever wonder how scientists measure the amount of Calories in your food? Remember that the process by which your body converts food into energy is not so different than how a fire converts fuel to heat. Scientists place a sample of food, for example 100grams of butter, into a machine called a bomb calorimeter. Under ideal, high-oxygen conditions, the sample is burned rapidly. It heats a known mass of water, and the change in temperature is measured. Just solve for Q and you’ve got your nutrition facts! Of course, once you know the heat energy contained in known masses of common ingredients like oil or flour, you can just add them together to find how many calories are in your tortilla chip. Probably easier than setting it on fire.

I think understanding the basic physical laws which govern energy exchange is important in daily life. If you understand heat transfer and phase changes, you can better understand the energy consumption of tasks like cooking or making coffee. Remember that calories or joules (units of energy) can be converted to watts per second/minute/hour (units of work). I imagine that it will become increasingly important as melting ice (a phase change if there ever was one) continues to affect our planet’s habitability. Take some time to brush up on your 9th grade science!

In case this wall of text was too much for you, here are some videos to help you understand.

The inimitable Bill Nye (30min episode):

Chemistry Lesson: Heat and Specific Heat Capacity (not quite so fun, but simple and informative). 12 minute presentation.

Doc Physics- Latent Heat of Fusion and Vaporization (9min)