The Green Salon: Water and Life

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From left to right: Mara Haseltine, David Sklar, Scott Sklar, Nora Maccoby-Hathaway, Richard Marks, William Haseltine

Last Sunday, the Green Salon convened in my New York apartment. The Salon is an informal group of people deeply committed to implementing social and political change to improve the environment. Over the past several years, the Salon met in my home in Georgetown to discuss a variety issues including alternative energy and environmentally friendly ways to convert trash to energy. The Swedish Embassy in Washington and the Green Salon jointly hosted "Blue Salon" to discuss the fate of our planet's oceans and fresh water.  Water again was the topic of the Salon on Sunday, inspired in part by the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Salon was organized by Nora Maccoby-Hathaway, Mara Haseltine (my daughter) and Richard Marks, the same three who organized the Washington meetings. The salon was co-hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences. The Waterkeeper Alliance, the Agnes B Tara Oceans Project, the Stella Group, STAR ISLAND, the Stella Group, and Urban Assembly, New York Harbor School were also represented.

The Salon, meeting as it does over an informal Sunday brunch, encourages dialogue. Short verbal presentations (Powerpoint is not allowed) are followed by Q&A.

Scott Sklar, Director of Stella Group, opened the discussion by commenting that energy use is the the primary cause of pollution of our water, land, and air. Scott has a long history of environmental activism. He currently serves as chair of the steering committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and as a director of the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.

Scott said, "Energy is the single largest contributor of air and water pollution as well as climate change. Energy costs are the single largest contributor to the US balance of payment deficit. US citizens are the largest energy consumers. We comprise only 3% of the world's population yet consume 25% of the world's energy. Despite obvious disadvantages, the US government still maintains elaborate oil, gas and coal subsidizes".

Scott argued that we can substantially reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by using existing technologies both to conserve and produce energy. His group, Stella Research, reviewed reports from 32 different organizations that looked at the US and world energy future. One study sponsored jointly by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council estimates that "renewable energy (wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, water) could provide all global energy needs by 2090." A US group believes that we could meet the requirements for reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 given a 57% increase in energy efficiency and a 43% substitution of renewable energy for fossil fuels. A Google sponsored study reports that the US could reduce energy demand by two-thirds by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions by almost 50%. The plan calls for extensive use of alternative energy. It is estimated to cost $4.4 trillion but re-coup $5.4 million. He cited a National Research Council Renewables report issued in June 2009 in saying that by 2060 we can reduce our energy consumption by 80%, allowing the US to become energy self-sufficient.

He offered his own solution, a mixture of energy conservation measures and replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources. His preferred mix:

20% Biomass power

20% Wind energy

15% Solar (Concentrated Solar)

15% Solar (Distributed Photovoltaic)

12% Energy saving from improved building standards

10% Geothermal

10% Water Energy

8%  Recovery of waste heat

Notable is the absence of nuclear power sources, which he considers too dangerous to use. When asked, he cited the failure of current nuclear plants to meet existing safety standards.

Scott and Nora Maccoby participate in a Department of Defense Energy Consensus think tank. Scott noted that 80% of casualties in the current theater of war result from moving oil. Renewable energy is a security advantage enabling independence on many levels. He  presented lightweight solar materials -- backpacks, blankets -- that are currently being used by the military to reduce the weight of soldiers backpacks by half.

Scott closed with a plea for each of us to think about how we can individually conserve energy. We can use LED bulbs, we can equip our homes with solar voltaics and heat pumps, we can build using new energy conservation standards, we can drive electric cars, and we can reduce water use. A guide of the top ten things we should do in our homes or offices to save energy is available on The Stella Group website.

The next speaker was David Sklar (unrelated to Scott), who spoke about the Star Island Development project.

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Model of Star Island

Star Island will be developed as a 35 acre carbon neutral resort community in the Bahamas. A mix of solar, wind, hydro, and biofuel will power the island. Each of the 70 structures on the Island will be energy independent yet linked through a sophisticated grid. Each building will be designed to collect and store rainwater. Excess power will be used to provide additional water by desalinization.

David believes that the advances made on Star Island can be replicated throughout the world.  Communities can combine the green building practices, the latest clean energy technologies, innovative design, and environmentally conscious resource management to build their own zero net-energy towns and cities. He plans to finance the resort on a strictly cash basis to avoid conflicting interests of builders and lenders. Visit his website to learn more. He closed by saying that if we learn to use the Earth's resources and technology, we can live sustainably and comfortably in harmony with nature.

Mara Haseltine, currently teaching a course on Art and Geotherapy at The New School, is both a sculptor and an environmentalist. She has been partnering with the NY/NJ Baykeepers and acting as a member and representative for "The Global Coral Reef Alliance" here in NYC in an effort to create a holistic alternative for reef restoration. She believes in "partnering with life forms to help us improve our environment." "As an artist I have searched for a way to be a functional part of society, not a social commentator or note taker. I want my art to make a positive contribution to the environment in a fully functional way," she explained.

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Model of oyster installation

In 2006, Mara created the first solar powered oyster reef in New York City in College Point, Queens. She illustrated her remarks with models of her sculptures that are both active and aesthetic. One is of an undersea sculpture that serves as a support for an oyster bed, meant to be deployed in New York Harbor. The form is derived from that of an oyster gill, a design that maximizes water flow over the surface. Once submerged, a mild electric current will induce the accretion of calcium carbonate, an excellent substrate for oyster attachment and growth. Each sculpture will contribute to cleaning the waterways. One oyster can filter up to 30 gallons of water a day. When Henry Hudson first arrived in to Manhattan, there were 350 miles of oyster reefs here which filtered all of the water coming in and out of the harbor in a matter of days, created a natural self repairing beach break and creates habitat for over 200 forms of aquatic life. Other sculptures will raise awareness of our dependence on microorganisms in the sea, such a phytoplankton and diatoms that provide half of our oxygen and remove the majority of carbon from the atmosphere. Mara is working with the Tara Oceans Project to create sculptures that "reveal the essential beauty and importance to all life of these organisms."

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William Haseltine is a former professor at Harvard Medical School, where he researched cancer and HIV/AIDS. He is the founder of Human Genome Sciences, where he served as chairman and CEO, and the president of the William A Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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