Drawdown: Tools for the Regeneration

There are currently a dizzying array of tools being built by people looking to speed up the drawdown of carbon from our atmosphere. 

We heard about more than a smattering of them during the weekend-long Drawdown Festival at the Southampton Arts Center. Here are some highlights:

Join A Carbon CREW

This is a local idea that is gaining traction. Carbon CREWs are a series of five informal meetings with a group of five to seven people led by environmentalists trained on the tools found in the book “2040: Handbook For the Regeneration,” during which participants will put together their own Personal Climate Action Plans to develop and work toward their own goals. 

CREW stands for Carbon Reduction for Earth Wellbeing —its an idea started by members of Drawdown East End who believe Margaret Mead’s credo that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Learn more at carboncrewproject.org.



Women Making Decisions

Four of the biggest areas in which our individual actions can make a difference to the climate include the energy use of our buildings, transportation, our food choices and our consumption, and most of these household decisions are made by women.

That’s part of the message behind Natalie Isaacs’ 1 Million Women movement, which seeks to empower women to make choices that are healthy for their families and for the planet. There are a bevy of resources on their website www.1millionwomen.com.au.

Elizabeth Lesser, the director of the Omega Institute and author of such books as “Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes,” builds on those ideas, highlighting clinical psychologist Shelly Taylor’s expansion on the long canonized research about “fight or flight” reflexes, which were based on studies that only involved men. Dr. Taylor found that, in stressful situations, women were more likely to engage in actions more akin to the phrase “tend and befriend.”

“What do women have to do with the environmental crisis?” she asks. “Everything. We need an ethos of care. We need statues of caring people. Caretaking is a noble, human response, and it’s an instinct that all humans need to develop now.”

Part of caretaking is caring for the things you own, and that’s the concept behind the Repair Café project underway at Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library, starting March 26.



Electrify Everything

One big concept to lower our carbon footprint revolves around the idea of working now to electrify everything in our homes, as an early and achievable step toward ensuring that electricity is produced in the future by renewable sources.

League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, North Fork & Shelter Island President Sue Wilson led the first panel discussion of the Drawdown Festival with a discussion on electrifying everything.

Local municipalities, particularly on the South Fork are getting on board with efforts to incentivize carbon-neutral heating, cooling and electricity in homes, including new emphasis on geothermal heat pumps, which will be the subject of an online community discussion Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. sponsored by Southampton Town. Town Sustainability Committe member Lynn Arthur gave a presentation at the Drawdown Festival showing how, because she already had ductwork in her house, she was able to install geothermal heating and cooling, with the help of government rebates, for about the same cost as a new fossil fuel-based system. Email Ms. Arthur at Larthur@southamptontownny.gov for the link to the webinar.

Sustainable Southampton is launching a new website, SustainableSouthamptonNY.com, on Feb. 18. Details are also available on a similar website for East Hampton Town, Energize East Hampton (energizeeh.org).

Both Southampton and East Hampton are working on plans to set up local electric systems that buy power for the community from renewable energy companies, which is transmitted through the LIPA grid. More information on Southampton’s effort is online at choicecommunitypower.com.

Krae Van Sickle, of East Hampton’s Energy Sustainability Committee, pointed out that it is also important to get an energy audit of your home and to reduce its demand on the grid. Both Southampton and East Hampton towns have resources on their websites above for homeowners looking for an energy audit.

The federal infrastructure bill passed last year has quite a few  resources for electric vehicle charging networks, said Steph Larsen, who added that Uber and Lyft are also incentivizing their drivers to drive electric vehicles. More and more electric vehicles are coming on the market this year, and she urged people who are considering an EV to take a look at the federal and state tax credits and rebates available, and at the money they won’t be spending on gasoline, when making an economic decision about buying an EV.

“The technology is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s possible that very soon we will have cars that can charge in the time it takes to go to the gas station, go to the restroom and get a snack,” she said. 



Get Your Town On Board

While Southampton and East Hampton have very engaged sustainability and renewable energy committees, there’s room for growth in this area on the North Fork. 

Day Three at the Drawdown Festival opened with discussions with the sustainability directors of Model Towns, including Ithaca in Upstate New York and Acton, Mass., along with the designers of the web platform MassEnergize.Org, which allows community members to track their process toward reducing their carbon footprint.

Acton, Mass. Sustainability Director Andrea Becerra pointed out that, when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords in 2017, more than 400 local governments throughout the country stepped up to declare that they were “still in and committed to addressing climate change.”

“Local communities really have a lot to contribute,” she said. “This moment in history really highlighted the power local government has.”

Ithaca’s Sustainability Director, Luis Aguirre-Torres, said the cost of getting Ithaca to carbon neutrality could be as much as $2 billion over the next ten years. To sell that idea to always cash-strapped municipal governments, he said it’s key to make sure the effort is “off the balance sheets of the city.” 

In Ithaca’s case, these upgrades are slated to be funded through a partnership with the Brooklyn renewable energy company Blocpower, through state grands and through risk assumed by an insurance company.

“It’s all about financial innovation,” he said. “The technology is there.”



Gardening Sequesters Carbon

Not only does growing a backyard vegetable garden help you keep your food consumption close to home, it also has many direct impacts on atmospheric carbon.

On a fundamental level, the process of photosynthesis pulls carbon dioxide from the air and stores that carbon in the soil, but there’s much more to it than that, says Jason Hansna-Cofield, of Shinnecock Native Designs, who also coordinates the Diabetes Prevention Recognition Program and Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country.

“Part of my duties is to make sure people, in their health quest, are making sure they’re eating healthy foods, and part of that is to convince people to grow their own food,” he said at the Drawdown panel on Soil Sequestration led by Alexandra Talty. “Carbon is the main component of organic matter in soil. It helps with water retention, structure and fertility.”

He added that members of the Shinnecock Nation had historically added kelp and fish meal to their soil, and had burned their fields between plantings to break down the organic matter that was there. Now, he said, kelp and plant scraps from composting make up much of the organic matter he uses, but he still finds it very useful to teach the tools of companion plantings that indigenous people first shared with the colonists who came here from Europe.

“Companion planting is what most people think of when they think of Indigenous people,” he said. “Corn, beans and squash, the Three Sisters, go together well, and they help each other with the soil. You physically plant them together. When corn comes in, it grows a tall stalk that is pulling carbon dioxide from the air. The beans use that stalk as a support system, and they add nitrate to the soil. The squash has big leaves that pull in carbon dioxide and help retain soil moisture and cool the situation.”

“In our tradition,  we didn’t necessarily go out and carve rows into the soil,” he added. “We would put our seeds in the ground, and you can have other medicine in the ground around your seeds. If you give a seed soil and water, it is going to grow.”

His biggest tip for people interested in beginning gardening?

“Scientists have figured this out. I don’t think we knew this in our science,” he said. “If you’re going to go and plant a garden, use your hands. Don’t put gloves on. If your hands are in the soil, that is a medicine. Mother Earth has given us everything we need. But the first medicine she needs is clean water. The first medicine that we need is clean water. The first medicine in both our beliefs and western beliefs is water.”

Other presenters like Freddie Catlow touted efforts like planboo.eco’s effort to grow bamboo in Sri Lanka, harvest the bamboo and turn it into biochar (plant-based charcoal) in a special kiln that works in a low oxygen environment, and then using that biochar as a soil amendment on local tea plantations, which have been recently banned from importing chemical fertilizers. 

Adib Dada of Beiruit, Lebanon shared his work with The Other Forest, which is working to build high-density forest ecosystems in environmentally degraded ares of the city using the Miyawaki Method, which mimics larger forest ecosystems on a tightly packed scale (theotherdada.com).

Keith Berns of greencoverseed.com in Nebraska is working with large commodity farmers on an ethos that focuses on improving the health of their soils through the planting of cover crops in the winter. The company’s guide to soil health can be found at greencoverseed.com/guides

His company is expanding with products for small scale farmers like the milpa garden, a mix of seeds grown by indigenous people of Central America, which includes the Three Sisters. They’re currently offering the first acre’s seeds free of charge to people who agree to give half the food they grow to food pantries (greencover.com/milpa).

“We will have home gardeners doing this on a fraction of an acre,” he said. “We want people to give it away, so they’re building both soil health and awareness.”

Webinars from the weekend-long festival will soon be available — visit drawdowneastend.org for more information.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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