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Drawdown Bears Down on Climate Crisis With Help From Locals

Sat, 01/29/2022 - 11:05

Several South Fork residents were among those presenting during last weekend’s virtual Drawdown Festival, an exploration of ways to solve the climate crisis. 

The three-day festival was offered by the Southampton Arts Center and presented in partnership with Drawdown East End; the Carbon CREW Project, a Water Mill group founded last year to bring actionable change to the climate crisis, and Damon Gameau, an Australian filmmaker and activist. 

Krae Van Sickle, a member of East Hampton Town’s Energy and Sustainability Committee and a co-founder of Drawdown East End, spoke about the importance of electrifying everything to reduce the burning of fossil fuels responsible for climate change.

Transportation and residential buildings account for almost half of energy use, he said, with heating and cooling of space and heating of water accounting for most of the latter’s consumption. “Most people don’t have electric space and water heating,” he said. “Converting heat to electricity is a huge step,” as is that of the heating of water, through the use of solar thermal collectors. He recommended a home energy audit to ensure that heating and cooling is not lost through leaks in doors and windows, for example.  

“Greening” one’s source of electricity should be the highest priority, Mr. Van Sickle said. “Make sure you’re getting renewable energy.” Adding solar panels, which “save you a tremendous amount of money if your roof is appropriate,” and buying green energy from one’s electric utility are ways to accomplish that, he said. Information on community solar projects, which allow residents to benefit from solar without installing panels on their house, is at the Energize East Hampton website,

Next in importance, Mr. Van Sickle said, is to drive an electric vehicle, and manufacturers are rolling out new models regularly. LED lighting and variable-speed pool pumps reduce energy consumption, and Energize East Hampton offers information and incentives for these, he said.

Lynn Arthur, founder of Peak Power Long Island and a member of Southampton Town’s Green Sustainability Advisory Committee, spoke about geothermal heating, calling it “clearly the most efficient” and a huge contributor toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions while reducing utility bills and increasing a property’s value. Ms. Arthur said that she recently replaced a conventional heating system with a geothermal system. The cost is the same whether another conventional or a geothermal system is selected, she said, but the operating costs of a geothermal system are “so much less.” 

Sean Barrett, founder of Dock to Dish and the Montauk Seaweed Supply Company, spoke of sea sequestration of carbon and how kelp farming “will play a role in regenerating our planet.” Kelp can capture five times more carbon than land plants. “Kelp farms act as a sink,” he said, capturing huge volumes of carbon, which his company converts to fertilizer or feeds that go “into livestock or into the ground.” 

He likened kelp farming to the “farm to table” movement in food distribution, this one a “seed to soil” movement with kelp as the vehicle to sequester carbon.

Sugar kelp is also used as food for human consumption and biofuel. Its sequestration of carbon dioxide counters the acidification of the oceans that results from absorption of CO2 from greenhouse gas emissions. Kelp is one of the fastest growing vegetative organisms in the world, and sequesters more carbon than eelgrass, mangroves, and salt marshes combined based on biomass. “We get by with a little kelp from our friends,” Mr. Barrett said.

He also referred to recent studies showing that adding a small amount of the red algae Asparagopsis to the diet of livestock dramatically reduces their methane emissions. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. 

“It has taken a while for the scientific community to incorporate this idea that biodiversity loss is a critical component of climate change,” said Edwina Von Gal, founder of Perfect Earth Project, which promotes toxin-free lawn care and landscaping, and Two Thirds for the Birds, the latter based on the finding that 70 percent of a landscape must comprise native plants and be free of pesticides in order to meet the needs of wildlife.

Use of gas-powered landscaping equipment, primarily mowers, is responsible for billions of pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Ms. Von Gal said, though her talk focused less on greenhouse gases than organic and holistic approaches to landscaping. “We tend to look at landscapes the same way we look at agriculture: treat them as extractive,” she said. “But what if you didn’t take away?” Instead, “leave your leaves,” she recommended. “Everything you take out of your landscape should stay on the property,” with nothing going to a landfill.

Between 25 and 50 percent of materials in landfills are considered landscape waste. “It is so not waste,” she said. “It is the food your property made for itself.” Grass clippings should be left on the lawn, she said. “If you’re doing it properly, they will disappear by the end of the day.”

Tela Troge of the Shinnecock Indian Nation spoke about the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers, an indigenous women’s collective. “We’re really interested in using our traditional knowledge as well as other cultural-based practices, as well as regenerative ocean farming with sugar kelp to clean up and extract nitrogen from Shinnecock Bay,” she said. “We’re really in a crisis and we don’t have time to wait for others to take action. . . . We need to get as many people engaged in this industry as possible.”

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