State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Undergraduate Students Working Toward Sustainable Solutions

By Noah Morgenstein

This spring, sustainable development seniors worked with clients on a range of projects aimed at combatting local and international challenges to sustainability, as part of the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development. Spring 2013 projects include the Department of Defense’s Net Zero Energy Initiative, Bike New York, the City as a Living Laboratory, and a Storm Damage, Climate Change, and Adaptation Planning for the Rockland County Commissioner of Planning.

The capstone course requires students to address the needs of the client and project by working collaboratively on solutions. Unlike most college courses, the interaction between students and clients does not just result in a final paper or presentation. On the contrary, these workshops present an opportunity for clients to benefit from fresh and innovative ideas and research, while students gain real life experience as consultants. Under the guidance of professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton, students are currently participating in the following projects:

The Net Zero Energy Initiative

The United States military is currently the largest single consumer of energy and the largest producer of waste in the country. Prompted by global pressures to better manage energy resources and reduce waste, the Department of Defense has addressed environmental concerns through its Net Zero Energy Initiative. The initiative, first launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point, aims to offer sustainable solutions towards the military’s enormous consumption of energy. Students working on this project have helped design sustainable strategies to reduce the use of natural resources and waste production in the military. On the local level, students have helped implement a more sustainable institution-wide management of energy, water, and waste at West Point, as well as promoting a culture of sustainability. Outside of West Point, students worked to setting a higher standard for sustainable energy consumption and waste reduction practices throughout the various military installations and at other military undergraduate institutions.

Bike New York

Bike New York is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “encourage cycling as a safe and sustainable means of transit and recreation” in the New York City area through education and public events. The organization has partnered with the New York City Department of Transportation and other city agencies to facilitate access to cycling for New Yorkers by providing free bicycle education classes in all five boroughs. Students in this workshop developed surveys to hand out before and after each of the Bike New York courses, and analyzed the results to help the organization to better serve the biking community of New York. Through this project, students helped to promote cycling as a healthy, green complement to New Yorkers’ daily lives.

Broadway: 1000 Steps

The City as Living Laboratory, Inc., founded by Mary Miss, is an organization that collaborates with scientists, policy makers, and members of the New York community to “create immediate experiential impact from research and planning initiatives.” Students worked to increased public awareness of sustainability through the organization’s latest project, “Broadway: 1000 Steps”. The exhibition consists of public art pieces along the corridor of Broadway that invite the observer to consider an aspect of land, water, air, energy, and waste of the surrounding area.

Storm Damage, Climate Change, and Adaptation Planning in Rockland County

Rockland County, located twelve miles north-northwest of New York City, was hit by both Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy. Students worked with the Rockland County Commissioner of Planning to analyze and compare the impacts of Irene and Sandy on the county’s infrastructure, communities, and residents. The team of students also made projections for future natural disasters and sea level changes, based on downscaled global climate models. Using these projections, students identified climate change adaptations and policy changes that must be made to reduce the impact of climate extremes in the future.

Please join us as students make their final spring presentations on Thursday, May 2nd from 3:00pm to 5:00pm and on Monday, May 6th from 1:00pm-3:00pm in Lerner Hall, room 569.  To RSVP, please contact Jessica Sotomayor at

Noah Morgenstein is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. He attends Columbia College and will graduate in 2015 with a degree in economics and political science.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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