Greening New Year’s Eve

  • The numerals for the New Year's Eve celebration on Times Square are brought in by pedi-cab. Just one of the many things that organizers say make this year's celebration more green. (Photo by Samara Freemark)

Tonight, thousands of people will
gather in Times Square in New York
City to ring in the new year. But
with all those lights and all that
confetti dropping, some people
are concerned about all that waste.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
make the party in Times Square
a little greener this year:

Transcript

Tonight, thousands of people will
gather in Times Square in New York
City to ring in the new year. But
with all those lights and all that
confetti dropping, some people
are concerned about all that waste.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
make the party in Times Square
a little greener this year:

(sound of pedicab)

When the seven-foot tall numerals 1 and 0 were delivered to Times Square earlier this month, they weren’t driven in on big gas guzzling trucks. They were pedaled in by human power – on pedicabs – which look more or less like a rickshaw.

That’s just one of the symbolic changes making new years greener.

The numerals themselves are saving energy.
There are more than 500 bulbs in the numbers. This year, the 40-watt halogen bulbs have been swapped out for 9-watt LED lights.

Susan Bloom is spokesperson for Phillips lighting – the company that made the switch. She says the numerals will shine even more brightly.

“Now they will deliver 80% greater energy efficiency, so, if you will, the times square ball numerals have gone greener than ever.”

Organiziers say the power for those lights is also greener – it’ll come from people pedaling stationary bikes in Times Square. Power from the bikes will be stored in batteries to light up the new year’s lights.

Oh, and about the ball.

In recent years, it’s been dropping its energy usage. Bloom says since 2007 they’ve doubled the number of lights, but since those are LEDs, the ball is still 80% more efficient.

Tim Tompkins is President of the Times Square Alliance. The Alliance is one of the event organizers. He says the time is right for the iconic celebration to go green.

“Times Square is always this place that’s kind of this mood ring for America that reflects whatever is going on. And certainly, in recent years, the country and world is getting greener and so it makes sense and is consistent with history that Times Square is going green in the way that the country is going green.”

There are a lots of other big entertainment events trying to reduce their environmental footprints.

Allen Hershkowitz is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s been helping to green the Grammy’s, the Academy Awards, Major League Baseball’s World Series, and lots of other big events.

“When we talk about greening an event, like the Times Square event, New Year’s Eve in New York City, or the Oscars or the Grammy’s, we go category by category. Every category of operations, every purchase made, engenders an environmental impact.”

Hershkowitz looks for ways to reduce those impacts at each event – everything from finding fuel efficient transportation to get there, to buying paper products for the event made from recycled materials, to serving locally grown food. They’ve even started using recycled plastic to make red carpets.

But sometimes these efforts draw criticism. When the Democratic National Convention tried to go green in 2008,
press photos afterwards showed piles of trash outside the convention hall. People wondered if the recycling and other efforts really made any difference.

Hershkowitz says big events, such as the DNC or New Year’s at Times Square can make some environmental improvements. But their real impact is in the ideals they represent.

“Frankly, I think the biggest thing that Times Square can do on New Year’s Eve is what they’re doing – publicizing environmentalism. Saying, ‘hey, that ball is made with energy efficiency lighting’ to the 1-point whatever billion people that are watching that show.”

Hershkowitz hopes people look at that symbol and make changes in their own lives in 2010.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Testing the Smart Grid

  • A smart grid diagram from the US Department of Energy. (Photo courtesy of the US Departmen of Energy)

Some electric companies are working
to put smart meters on our homes.
They want to change how we use
electricity hour by hour. Eventually,
power companies will charge more
when demand for electricity is highest.
Mark Brush reports on a new study
that looks at how people are responding:

Transcript

Some electric companies are working
to put smart meters on our homes.
They want to change how we use
electricity hour by hour. Eventually,
power companies will charge more
when demand for electricity is highest.
Mark Brush reports on a new study
that looks at how people are responding:

Connecticut Light and Power tested the smart grid on about 3,000 of it’s customers. Half of them residential and half of them business customers.

They found that people did respond to high rates during high periods of demand – such as from noon to eight pm.

Jessica Cain is with Connecticut Light & Power. She says there seems to be a limit to how much they’ll change. For example, doing laundry late at night seemed to be a non-starter.

“Doing your laundry after 8pm would be a barrier. And we heard that from customers, both from a residential customer side and then from a business customer side. We heard that changing their business hours outside of that twelve to eight window would be very difficult.”

The power company found the most energy was saved when the utility itself used the smart meter to shutdown things like air conditioners during periods of high demand.

The customers said they liked the “set it and forget it” approach – so long as they could override the system if they needed to.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Cracking Down on Bulb Disposal

  • Each compact fluorescent light bulb has a small amount of mercury in it (Source: Yann at Wikimedia Commons)

Old incandescent light bulbs
are getting pushed out of the
way by the more efficient compact
fluorescent light bulbs. But
the bulbs contain a small amount
of a toxic chemical. Mark Brush
reports, that has some regulators
concerned:

Transcript

Old incandescent light bulbs
are getting pushed out of the
way by the more efficient compact
fluorescent light bulbs. But
the bulbs contain a small amount
of a toxic chemical. Mark Brush
reports, that has some regulators
concerned:

Each one of these CFL bulbs contains a tiny amount of mercury.

It’s not a big a concern. If a bulb breaks in your home, you’re supposed to vent the room for 15 minutes before you clean it up.

But regulators are concerned about large volumes of bulbs.

The state of New York decided to crack down on CBS after the Late Show with Dave Letterman threw bulbs off a rooftop.

Letterman: “You have some incandescent light bulbs and you have some fluorescent light bulbs. How many do you think you have there?”

Assistant: “Uh, a couple of hundred.”

Letterman: “A couple hundred”

(sound of bulbs crashing on ground)

The little cloud of dust that rose as the bulbs broke caused people from around the country to call the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. And CBS reached a settlement with the state.

Most home owners don’t need to worry about state regulators knocking on their doors. It’s not illegal to put them in your trash in most states.

But officials encourage home owners to find a bulb take-back program like the ones listed on EPA’s website.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

On the Lookout for Fireflies

  • Researchers have started a project to document firefly sightings (Photo by Don Salvatore, courtesy of Museum of Science, Boston)

Scientists want your help counting
fireflies. Mark Brush reports researchers
hope to answer a commonly asked question:

Transcript

Scientists want your help counting
fireflies. Mark Brush reports researchers
hope to answer a commonly asked question:

People often ask, ‘Why don’t we see as many fireflies anymore?’

Don Salvatore is an educator at Boston’s Museum of Science. He says he and other
researchers don’t have a good answer. They don’t even know whether there are fewer
fireflies or not.

So Salvatore and a few bug scientists started up the Firefly Watch Project. They’re
asking people to help them out by spending a few minutes in their backyard.

“So what we want them to do is to go outside at night and then for a ten second period
count the number of fireflies they see. As well as that we ask them to just key in on a
couple of fireflies and give us just a little information.”

Salvatore says they hope to discover whether thinks like frequent lawn mowing, light
pollution, and pesticides are harming firefly numbers.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Paying for Peak Power

  • Advanced, individual meters that calibrate energy prices for each apartment. (Photo by Samara Freemark)

Energy prices are rising, and people are looking
for ways to conserve power. But some rate payers are
saving money without actually cutting their energy use.
Instead they’re changing when they use power. Samara
Freemark reports:

Transcript

Energy prices are rising, and people are looking
for ways to conserve power. But some rate payers are
saving money without actually cutting their energy use.
Instead they’re changing when they use power. Samara
Freemark reports:

It’s Saturday morning, and Ellen and Peter Funk are doing laundry.

The Funks used to do chores when most people do – they would get home from work and
switch on their dishwasher, dryer, and computer. They never really paid attention to
what that meant for their electricity bill.

“I never thought about electricity before. Never, never, never. Except when I got the bill.
But, you didn’t have any control. Because you paid the same price whether you used it at 2 in
the morning or 2 in the afternoon.”

But a couple of years ago the Funks started paying for their electricity differently than the
rest of us. They live in one of only a handful of buildings in New York City that
participate in a Real Time Pricing program.

Real Time Pricing charges consumers a different rate depending on when they use power.

The Funks know that running their dishwasher or turning on a light will cost more at 5
pm than at 10 pm. That’s because they get a color-coded chart every month that breaks
down their energy prices by time block.

“The green here is low. And the green starts at 10 o’clock at night and goes through 1
o’clock the following afternoon. The yellow is medium from 2 to 5 every day. And then
Monday to Friday there’s a high period from 5 to 9. That means stop. I think that’s why
they used red.”

It’s the same concept that makes cell phone minutes cost more during the day. Power
costs more when more people want to use it.

Real Time Pricing can save consumers a lot of money. Peter Funk says his family saves
hundreds of dollars a year by just shifting when they use energy.

“It’s an ongoing savings. We do these things because they make sense economically. We
don’t do it because we’re virtuous, we don’t do it because we’re better than our neighbor.
We just, this is the way we buy electricity because it makes sense.”

Real Time Pricing programs shift around power demand, so fewer people use energy
during peak hours. A Department of Energy study earlier this year estimated that Real
Time Pricing programs could cut peak energy use by about 15%.

That could actually help regions improve air quality and conserve resources by
decommissioning old, polluting power plants. Here’s how.

Most areas have a network of power plants. Usually only a few of those plants – the
newest, cleanest ones – are in use. But when energy demand peaks, the older, less
efficient plants kick in. And those plants spew a lot of carbon dioxide and other
pollutants into the air.

“It’s really not the number of power of power plants, but the ones you have to turn on at
critical times.”

Jim Genarro is a New York City councilman. He also chairs the council’s Committee on
Environmental Protection.

He says the plants that kick in when demand peaks are the worst in the system.

“We have a lot of reserve capacity in the city, but these are the older, dirtier plants, and
when you run those at peak capacity, it really means a lot of pollution.”

And Genarro says those plants cost even when they’re not producing energy. The city
has to maintain them all the time so they can switch on when needed. That wastes energy
and resources. It also means there are power plants that are only used a few weeks, or
even days, a year.

If power companies could cut peak energy demand, rarely-used, polluting plants could
become totally unnecessary. And many could be shut down.

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

Designing Bird-Friendly Buildings

  • In Chicago, many migrating birds are attracted by the lights on tall buildings. This attraction causes some birds to crash into the buildings, often resulting in death. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Scientists estimate up to a billion birds are killed every year when they collide into building windows in the United States. Now, a group of bird watchers, biologists and architects are working together… hoping to lower the death toll. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lynette Kalsnes has the story:

Transcript

Scientists estimate up to a billion birds are killed when they collide into building windows in the United States every year. Now a group of bird watchers, biologists and architects are working together, hoping to lower the death toll. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium Lynette Kalsnes has the story:


If you call the group the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, you’ll hear this message:


“If you have found an injured bird, please place the
bird gently in the bottom of a brown paper sack. A
grocery bag is just fine. Please put the bag with the bird in it in a quiet, dark place that’s warm. Inside, please.”


That’s the voice of the group’s founder and director Robbie Hunsinger. She’s followed those same instructions herself hundreds of times.


During migration season, in a single night, thousands
of birds fly over Chicago. They are attracted to the
lights on tall buildings and crash into the windows.
Hunsinger and other volunteers get up before dawn so
they can rescue the injured birds before the rats and
gulls get them.


After a morning of picking up injured birds, Hunsinger
has filled her car with brown paper bags containing
hurt swallows and cuckoos. Then, she’s driven up to 3
hours round-trip to get the birds to wildlife
rehabilitators.


She’s even cared for some of those birds herself.
Hunsinger has filled her music studio with mesh cages
and used up all her dishes for food and water. She says she decided to do something to help the birds three years ago after she saw 80 dead birds one morning in just a small area downtown.


“It was horrendous. Everywhere we looked, there were
birds, and they kept coming down. They were still
hitting when we were out there. So you’re standing
there, and birds were falling out of the sky.”


Hunsinger says she found the fallen birds clustered on
the sidewalks just as the busy city began to wake.


“It was rather surrealistic. Especially as the sun
started came up, and people started coming to work.
People were stepping over birds everywhere. People in
suits, people in high heels, coming in from the train
stations, going to their jobs in the Loop.”


Hunsinger says something changed in her that day. She
says she could no longer be an armchair
conservationist.
So, she formed a group of volunteers to help her save
the birds.


But rescuing injured birds didn’t seem to be enough.
Now she’s working with biologists, architects and bird-watchers to make buildings safer for birds.


Chicago already asks the managers of its tall
buildings to turn out the lights at night during
migration to avoid attracting the birds. But it’s
become clear that something more has to be done to
prevent so many birds from crashing into the building
windows.


This spring, the city and the Chicago Ornithological
Society will host what’s believed to be the first
conference on bird-friendly design. Those who’ve studied it say the problem is that birds
don’t recognize glass.


“The glass surface will act as a perfect mirror.”


That’s biology professor Daniel Klem Jr. of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. He estimates that collisions with windows kill a billion birds a year in the U.S.


“A bird is not capable of determining that that image
on the glass surface is not a real tree. It attempts
to fly to it. Or it attempts to fly to light seen in
the window, as if it was a passageway to safety. And
the bird gets whacked and dies.”


Klem says installing windows at an angle or using
patterned glass can help. So can shades or
decals. Klem’s also pushing for research to develop special
glass or coatings that would be invisible to humans
but visible to birds.


It’s a new field. Limiting bird crashes isn’t part of
building design. Ellen Grimes is an assistant architecture professor at
the University of Illinois at Chicago. Grimes says
architects think about light, heat, power, water and
human traffic, but not bird traffic.


“When architects have approached sustainable design,
it’s been an engineering question. But there has not been a lot of consideration of
the biological interactions.”


Grimes acknowledges the issue of protecting birds
might be a hard sell because it might mean
compromising other design elements. But she’s hoping bird friendly design becomes as much
a part of green buildings as energy efficiency.


The rescue group’s Robbie Hunsinger says we share the
migrating birds with other nations. We have an
obligation to be good stewards of the birds.


“This can be fixed. These our our buildings. And we
should do it. We, by God, should do it.”


Meanwhile. Hunsinger is among a group of bird
watchers pushing for a center in downtown Chicago to
care for injured birds that collide with the building
windows. She’d like to keep the cages out of her home music
studio so she can actually practice music.


For the GLRC, I’m Lynette Kalsnes.

Related Links

Appreciating the Night Sky


The invention of electric lights at the end of the 19th Century ended the ancient tyranny of darkness over our lives. Turning on the lights at night has allowed us to make every hour count. But while nighttime lighting has given us unprecedented security and uncountable opportunities, we may be reaching the point where we have too much of a good thing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Janus reports on two people involved in an international effort to turn the lights down a little and take back the night: