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Torchlight Columns Repository

Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Energy Democracy Rising

February 11, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Sociologists who study social movements grapple with characterizing their subject matter. For some, movements arise to solve problems by way of executing specific agendas. Others postulate that problem-solving agendas can emerge for groups that started out in search of solutions to another problem. Today's quest for "energy democracy" in cities like New York is arising from a social movement matrix demanding more affordable housing as it finds common cause with urban climate movement activists and professionals calling for energy efficiency buildings and replacing fossil fuels for heating, cooling and electricity, with renewable energy.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Beat The Extreme Heat

November 30, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

OK, writing about scorching hot weather in December may seem a bit odd, but bear with me. Global temperature trends, with 2015 on track for being the hottest year in the historical record, and with the evidence in hand to debunk climate denialist claims of a pause or hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years mean that deep damage to the Earth's climate is happening now. And that's not all for city dwellers. The urban heat island effect (UHIE) at the city-scale is something we are already all too familiar with. With temperatures rising 4–8 degrees Fahrenheit above surrounding areas and staying hotter at night time, UHIE makes us more than sweaty and sticky; it makes us sick; and heat stroke poses increased risk of dying, especially for the elderly and the frail.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

Building Energy Performance: What’s Evidence Got To Do With It?

October 05, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

New York City's landmark Building Energy Benchmarking statute, Local Law 84, is one of the singular achievements of Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 and has the potential to serve as a power tool for helping to realize Mayor de Blasio's goal of cutting the city's carbon footprint 80% by 2050. By potential we mean the extent to which LL84 findings are presently underutilized. By potential we also mean, given the information about building energy use now on hand and the knowledge gleaned about how this data can be applied to building features and operations, there are significant benefits still to be gained.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Getting Active On Passive House

June 18, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

I'm a fan of Passive House. Ever since visiting the top-to-bottom renovation job for an elegant 19th century home in Brooklyn Heights undertaken by architect Ken Levenson back in 2011, the potential for constructing — or in this case reconstructing — urban buildings to keep occupants really comfortable year round without boiler heating or air conditioning in every room has been my yard stick to measure all other climate-friendly buildings. Levenson's Snapshot column was the first introduction Sallan readers had to Passive House, and since then, Ken's been one very busy Passive House advocate.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Spanish Requirement

March 17, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Omri Ben-Shahar concludes a scathing attack on contemporary disclosure laws with a barbed reference to a 400-word pronouncement, called the "Spanish Requirement". It was a prepared statement read in Spanish by 16th Century conquistadors to New World inhabitants, which warned them, having been put on notice, to "acknowledge the Church as the rule and superior of the whole world" or else!

More Than You Wanted To Know book jacket
Image: Book Jacket

While Professor Ben-Shahar concedes, "Happily, disclosures no longer excuse slaughter and slavery", he and his co-author Carl E. Schneider in More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosures, set out to make the case that today's disclosure laws, often called "sunshine" laws, are, at best, a waste of time because they fail to inform, warn or change anyone's behavior. At worst, disclosure laws shield bad actors from legal liability and let timid politicians hide behind the supposed virtues of enacting sunshine laws rather than passing bills to outlaw the behaviors that disclosure laws are supposed to help us see and thus avoid or amend. These are serious indictments, and as a long-standing supporter of New York City's very own sunshine statute, the Energy Benchmarking Law, enacted in 2009, I knew I needed to read this book with care. What if it's right?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Promising Promises

January 20, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is a much-admired short story by Delmore Schwartz where the character becomes increasingly agitated in a dream as he watches a film depicting his parents' courtship. Readers are apt to reflect on their own family dramas, hopes and regrets. While, for most of us, the drama of climate change, sustainability and its fierce political struggles is not the same as the family variety, the implicit questions about the choices we make and the responsibilities we incur run deep for both.

As Sallan begins its second decade, it's a good moment to reflect on what promises were made and my sense of what was at stake back in 2005 when Torchlight #1 was posted. Much has happened in the arena of urban sustainability and climate change since then, some of it very good, some of it not, and our responsibilities should press us onward. But, exactly how?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Difficulty Of Simplicity

November 10, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Use more four-letter words. No, not those kinds, but short, everyday four letter words that mean more to most people than "sustainability" or "resiliency" or even "benchmarking building energy efficiency". Climate activists, energy system innovators, and campaigners for grassroots eco-engagement need to do a better job when trying to tell fellow citizens what they should think is important, which in turn will influence their everyday choices, like the stuff they spend money on and who they vote for. We can't expect most people to take up zero-carbon lifestyles as a rallying cry because people have a lot of other things on their minds and much to do every day. But becoming climate aware and climate smart and energy-educated is well within everyone's reach. This is the reason we've got to do better at making our messages and our prescriptions easy to grasp.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The De Blasio Benchmarking Blessing

September 29, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Mayor de Blasio has given a special vote of confidence to Local Law 84, the building energy benchmarking mandate, in his climate policy vision report "One City, Built to Last: Transforming New York City's Buildings for a Low-Carbon Future". At the very same time, the US Environmental Protection Agency has released an expanded version of Energy Star, a software program that for the first time allows multi-family property owners and managers to score and rate their properties' energy performance and make comparisons with comparable properties. Talk about great timing, now that New York has become the biggest city in the world to set a goal of cutting its carbon emissions 80% by the year 2050.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

May The Force Be With Us

July 08, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… make that December 2013 in New York, a targeted expansion to the plan for shrinking New York City's carbon footprint, was born. This Carbon Challenge was originally devised to get government building managers — "leading by example" — along with voluntary commitments by large institutions like universities, hospitals and large office buildings, to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% in half the time outlined in PlaNYC 2030. The expansion, which came out less than a month before Mayor de Blasio took office, called for some of New York's largest multi-family property managers to encourage their co-op, condo and rental clients to embrace this same fast-track emissions reduction goal and cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15% over the next decade. Here's how it's designed to work.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Use The Future As A Reference

May 08, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

While a New York Times Editorial calls Mayor de Blasio's ambitious and sweeping affordable housing vision Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan, his "moon shot", I'd like to focus in on his plan's energy efficiency and resiliency ideas. Coincidentally, the day after the Mayor issued his housing report President Obama released the US National Climate Assessment and for a coastal city like New York, here's a finding that stands out:

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Meet Donovan Richards: NYC's New Environmental Protection Chairperson

March 13, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Council Member RichardsShortly after Superstorm Sandy wreaked its havoc on New York, Donovan Richards won a special City Council election to represent the super-soaked residents of southeast Queens. In January 2014, his Council colleagues tapped him to become Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee. Talk about being fast-forwarded into the center of urban climate change and resilience politics!

I caught up with Council Member Richards in March to find out about his vision, the mission and a legislative agenda for his committee. With his new citywide responsibilities, our discussion started at his plans for representing his southeast Queens constituents, with their Sandy recovery and resilient infrastructure needs along with their concerns about the health impacts of air pollution. He spoke at length about how these concerns interface with the environmental and climate needs of the entire City now that he will be leading environmental legislative and oversight initiatives.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Carpe Diem

February 12, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

At a press conference announcing his picks for senior housing agency positions, Mayor de Blasio flagged the need for retooling public housing to make it energy-efficient. The New York Times quoted the Mayor as saying, “It’s a total reset”. While this embrace of energy efficiency as part of his campaign for significantly expanding the City’s stock of affordable housing, is something to cheer about, it will not be a “total reset” because it will be building on the pioneering work of other can-do, affordable housing visionaries. What the Mayor’s engagement can do is scale up new construction and rehabbing of affordable homes to make energy efficiency and fuel economy the new normal. He can end forever the critics’ claim that climate friendly, energy efficient housing is a luxury American cities can’t afford.

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Spiral staircase inside armature of Lady Liberty