State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Students Work on Net Zero Energy to Adaptation Planning Projects

By Noah Morgenstein

This past May, seniors in the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development delivered their final presentations to fellow students and faculty at Columbia University. The workshop is a required course for students in the Sustainable Development major or special concentration. Unlike traditional courses, the workshop requires students to work collaboratively on a client project to find solutions to a specific sustainable development problem. After months of research and preparation, four workshop groups shared their findings formally at Columbia, before doing so for their respective clients.

The spring 2013 projects included the Department of Defense’s Net Zero Energy Initiative, Bike New York, the City as a Living Laboratory, and Rockland County’s Storm Damage, Climate Change, and Adaptation Planning Initiative.  Read more about each project below:


Department of Defense’s Net Zero Energy Initiative

078With the United States military being the largest consumer of energy and producer of waste in the country, the Department of Defense founded the Net Zero Energy Initiative as a way to address environmental concerns. 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, Mason Ben-Yair, Aida Conroy, and Diego Garcia, set out to asses and evaluate how West Point could create a stronger culture of sustainability. With the help of their faculty advisor, Diane Dittrick, the group used surveys and comparisons from other universities to collect and analyze data concerning specific challenges to sustainability. Using their research, team members designed sustainable strategies that included public-private partnerships and the creation of cadet-led task forces, to reduce the use of natural resources and the production of waste.

Bike New York

080Bike 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, Josh Arky, Maud Henderson, Caitlin Hoeberlein, Mary Kircher, and Chloe Phitoussi, set out to understand barriers to biking in New York City, and to identify ways of promoting this greener mode of transportation. To do so, the group developed and distributed surveys before and after each of the Bike New York courses. Questions included: why students do not continue after introductory classes; how the classes affected comfort levels with biking: and why more women enroll than men. Team members recommended that the best way to promote biking in New York would be to improve city infrastructure, such as bike lanes.

City as a Living Laboratory

083The City as Living Laboratory, Inc. 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.” The project, Broadway: 1000 Steps, uses public art to get citizens to imagine themselves as part of an urban ecosystem, while addressing critical environmental, social and economic issues. The members of this workshop, Ana Castillo, Jennifer Mendez, Melissa Diaz, Jared Talkin, Matt Bystol, and John Squires, sought to develop a framework for networks that would be mutually beneficial for partner organizations. The group recommended that the City as Living Laboratory focus on building networks of business, NGOs, religious institutions, local governments, and citizens, in order to increase public awareness of vital environmental issues.

Rockland County’s Storm Damage, Climate Change, and Adaptation Planning Initiative

The final workshop group worked with the Rockland County Commissioner of Planning to analyze and 029compare the impacts of Irene and Sandy on the county’s infrastructure, communities, and residents. Students involved with this workshop included Maggie Brommer, Robert Kite, Jesse Bakker, Patrick Woolsey, Joseph Dorfman, Kathy Zhang, Rebecca Smith, and Rose Winer. Students compared the precipitation and winds of each storm, as well as which areas were impacted most by each. Using their research, the team of students formulated 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.

In the end, each spring 2013 workshop provided each client with fresh research and innovative ideas, while giving students real life experience as consultants.

To watch the presentation videos, please click HERE.

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.

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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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