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Earth Day should mark fervent commitment to mitigate climate change

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April 22 is Earth Day, the annual worldwide celebration of support for environmental protection. The official theme of Earth Day 2014 is Green Cities, a campaign focused on helping cities (home to more than half of the world’s population) to reduce their carbon footprint. (Visit EarthDay.org to learn how you can help your city go green.)

As Linda David of StopGlobalWarming.org wrote, "Hundreds of scientists spent four years compiling a comprehensive and objective assessment of the current scientific knowledge on mitigating climate change. The much anticipated report released April 12th from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a bleak picture.

"Global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.

"The warning is clear: "The worst is yet to come… if no measures are taken to curb the ill-effects of global warming." Catastrophic scenarios can still be avoided, but greenhouse-gas emissions will have to be cut by 40% to 70% by mid-century, and to near zero by the end of this century." View the full IPCC report.

Throughout the year, I have written columns advocating for what we need to do, particularly at the state, regional and local levels, including banning fracking and ceasing development of fossil-fuel dependent technologies in favor of focusing resources on developing renewable energy like encouraging solar and geothermal for residential, commercial and government buildings. Also, we should be developing an offshore wind farm - not the Port Ambrose LNG terminal. Long Island has the best conditions in the country and enterprises can tap into Cuomo's StartUp NY so taxpayers get some positive return from his generous incentives.

If we adopted these renewable technologies - instead of relying on Big Oil and Gas, we could decentralize energy production, become truly energy independent, and unchain ourselves from being at the mercy of monopolistic corporations, utilities and unfriendly governments.

It is clear that localities need to take charge in determining our future since the higher up you go on the government level the more tied to the fossil fuel industry our so-called representatives are. The Congressional fossil-fuel toadies - mainly Republicans from states like Oklahoma - have blocked, stalled every measure aimed at mitigating the forward surge of climate change, despite record droughts, record hurricanes, record floods, record heat and cold and the impacts on food production and prices, and water supplies.Oklahoma has actually just passed legislation to charge homeowners a surcharge for installing solar panels or wind turbine, or anything else that gives them a measure of energy independence.

Instead, states like Oklahoma and Tennessee have adopted model legislation produced by ALEC (funded by the Koch Brothers) mandating school science curriculum teach climate change denial, and states like Virginia, North Carolina and Nebraska passed laws banning the application of scientific evidence of climate change.

Here in Nassau County, Executive Ed Mangano has not quite gone so far as to publicly deny climate change, but has done scant little to advance sustainability here - especially in contrast to such visionary leaders as Jon Kaiman as North Hempstead's Supervisor.

Mangano's administration touted as its most significant accomplishment of his first term (actually his first official act), repealing the energy tax. But the energy tax not only would have gone a long way to preventing the county falling so far into deficit without laying off thousands of public workers and castrating public services (as Mangano chose to do to close his budget gap), but would have encouraged energy conservation - the #1 tactic to reducing our share of carbon emissions which is threatening the entire planet.

The ignorance of this administration in sustainability - as it applies to the quality of life in our community - was stunningly on view at the recent Vision Long Island "Complete Streets" forum. What is complete streets, you might wonder? It is the notion of designing streets so they accommodate all users - not just cars, but mass transit, bicycles, pedestrians - and that are designed to not only improve safety of all the users, but reduce the carbon imprint as much as possible. And lo and behold, we find that Complete Streets strategies actually improve the quality of life in a community while also promoting economic revitalization and development in a sustainable way.

You know who is an expert on Complete Streets? Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender and her village, which poses the most significant challenges of traffic flow of any village, manifests the best of planning. You know who never bothers to show up at this forum? The village of Great Neck, and it shows in how utterly awful Middle Neck Road is and how unappealing its downtown is.

You know who else has no clue what complete streets means? The Nassau County representative to the forum, Christopher Mistron, the Nassau County Traffic Safety Coordinator, who actually admitted he had not known the term "complete streets", had never even seen, let alone known about, bike racks on buses. The County's total understanding of traffic is red light cameras (which in the County's understanding is more about raising revenue than promoting safety, but reducing pedestrian fatalities is a nice bonus).

So now, Nassau County faces another challenge - a test really: the rebuilding of its waste water treatment plants on the South Shore.

Here in Great Neck, we should be thanking our lucky stars daily that we won our battle not to be forced to divert our sewage to the Cedar Creek plant, and instead, the Great Neck Water Pollution Control Board has rebuilt our plant using sustainable technologies. Bless you.

So far, Mangano, has not revealed how he intends to improve the plants. His modus operandi is to do all the planning behind closed doors and then present a fully formed plan to the Republican-dominated Legislature for its rubber stamp.

Superstorm Sandy - probably the closest hit-in-the-face example of climate change in our neighborhood - was actually a godsend to Mangano, who now can look to the federal government to finance most of the rebuilding.

But do you hear any discussion of taking this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design the plants for sustainability?

Mangano is content with a treatment plant that gushes semi-treated effluent into the Atlantic Ocean. This is an administration undaunted by the fact that creeks where children used to swim and fish have been fouled.

This is an administration that has absolutely no one in charge who has any actual professional expertise in water treatment plants or sustainability.

I am quite sure there is no one in his administration that is aware of a new technology that can be incorporated into the design which makes the water treatment plant self-sustaining in terms of its electricity use, while producing an effluent that is so pure as to be potable.

While the ability to reuse this water for irrigation (like for golf courses, but also for agriculture which used to be significant for Long Island), and would be a desirable attribute for returning the effluent back to oceans and creeks, the main advantage of this technology for Long Island is the fact that it enables the plant to generate its own electricity through the production of methane (a byproduct of the treatment process). In fact, it produces so much electricity than in some instances, the treatment plant can supply electricity back into the grid.

Why is that important for Long Island and for Nassau County? Because water treatment plants are the greatest single users of electricity. Because we constantly hear that our cost of electricity is the highest in the nation and this is a key reason why Long Island is unable to attract new businesses and manufacturing (when in fact, we should be ideal to become a center for renewable energy industry because of our research and brain resources for such things as wind turbine manufacture and solar panel production, and high-storage batteries). And in any case, you would think it would bring down the expense for taxpayers in running the plant.

The company that has devised this new technology, which is being applied in drought-stricken California where they are desperate to come up with ways to produce water for use in irrigation in order to preserve dwindling drinking water supplies, is Pasteurization Technology Group. Its innovation is in finding a way to heat the treated water to a high temperature - pasteurizing it and disinfecting it - using energy generated by the methane produced in the treatment process. More importantly, it is the only natural disinfection process, eliminating the need for UV (high energy) and chlorine (toxic and costs money, like $250,000/year), which are typically used to disinfect the wastewater. And after a reasonable investment up front, the process basically pays for itself in energy production.

This is “two-for-one” technology that combines eco-friendly wastewater disinfection with the generation of renewable energy.

Indeed, the chlorine that is typically used is not only expensive, but "when the chlorine breaks down, the byproducts are scarier than the chlorine itself," says Greg Ryan, PTG CEO and co-founder.

Using heat as a disinfectant is one of the oldest processes around - going back to Louis Pasteur - and is what we use to process milk.

"The concept is that heat kills organisms The problem is that generating heat takes tremendous amount of energy, so long ago, the engineering community says while heat is great, it is not viable.

"Our patented process uses exhaust heat as the fuel - not just burning fuel or oil as a fresh source - to generate electricity. Presently, 70% of energy generation does not go to make electricity, but is wasted heat. So we take the wasted heat - and transfer it into the wastewater stream.

"Step 2 - the critical component and why we are successful - once the wastewater is raised to the temperature to kill all the organisms, 170 degrees Fahrenheit - the problem is that once it is that hot, you can't discharge such high heat into the bay or estuary. So we reuse the heat energy - run a countercurrent with stainless steel plates in a heat exchanger, so the incoming flow that hasn't been disinfected yet runs on one side, and the heated water on the other side."

The upfront cost of such technology is site specific, but ranges from as little as 30 cents per gallon treated per day (so 10 million gallons would require a capital expenditure of $3 million), to 50 cents per gallon (or $5 million) - not bad for a wastewater treatment plant that can cost $1 billion here in Nassau County. The PTG system lasts over 20 years, stainless steel and has only two moving parts, fan and pump - only technology that can pay for itself. And it can be remotely monitored. (For information, www.pastechgroup.com.)

Wastewater has not had a high priority among municipalities - it's not sexy like some public services, but is arguably as critical to sustaining the livability of a community as the ability to eliminate waste is to the human body.

"But there is a growing focus on recycled water and cities are now understanding that what they considered waste has value," Ryan says.

I would add here that this is just like the underappreciated value of waste oil - which now is a foul product that costs money to treat. Nassau County should follow the example of the Great Neck Water Pollution Control Plant which has had a program to collect waste cooking oil from local restaurants and turning it into biodiesel fuel for its fleet.

Nassau County should do this on a big scale, offering the opportunity for private entrepreneurs to collect waste oil from restaurants and bringing it to the treatment plant for production into biodiesel which the county could either produce or license to private concessionaires, who could sell the biodiesel commercially or the county could use it to power its own fleet and other municipal entities. (Isn't shared services at local government which Cuomo has made an essential goal?)

Climate change is the "biggest public health challenge and the biggest economic challenge we face," Gina McCarthy who heads the Environmental Protection Agency (formed 44 years ago after the first Earth Day mobilized grassroots support), said on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."

"We’re talking about positioning the U.S. for the future as well as those companies [who claim that restricting carbon would hurt economic growth]. They know they can invest in renewable energy. They know they can make it work in an energy mix. So our job really is to drive those reductions nationally, but to make sure every state is differently positioned. Some have already done aggressive energy efficiency work. You know what? They can do a whole lot more.

Indeed, Paul Krugman recently wrote in a column, "Salvation is Cheap" - the cost of renewable energy is coming down dramatically - no thanks to the federal government - while the cost of the impacts of climate change because of impacts of drought, flood, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes and other disasters on the food and water supply and even in the likelihood of 200 million climate refugees, is growing astronomically.

Time is running out.

“If we don’t start dealing with climate change, which is the biggest public health challenge we face, as well as the biggest economic challenge and think of it both from an environmental and economic standpoint, then I think we’re losing for the next generation and our own, quite frankly,” she said.

I'm pro life. I'm pro living things. I'm pro Mother Earth. This earth is our only lifeline. The next available planet that might possibly provide a habitat is 500 light years away.

Earth Day should be celebrated with the same fervor as Easter. It is no wonder that at the Easter Parade, there are so many people who wear the symbols of Mother Earth's rebirth. For indeed, the subtext is about death and renewal (resurrection would mean extinction of life as we know it and new evolution process over millions of years, hence, like with the dinosaurs).

As it is written in Deuteronomy 30:15-20:

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."

See also:

Long Island could lead the nation, world in offshore wind power

Draft New York State Energy Plan opens door for natural gas development

Long Island protesters send Cuomo a message: Ban fracking, veto LNG terminal and slideshow

Long Island protesters to send anti-fracking message to Cuomo at McCarthy event

Ukraine Crisis reverberates on Long Island as NYS Energy Plan is finalized

At Hague, Obama takes important stand on climate change with Netherlands

Year after Superstorm Sandy, NYS, nation fail to address climate change

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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