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Turkey At The Office

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Turkey at Captivate HQ outside BostonUPDATE MAY 4:
New York City Captivate viewer Victoria Kimball checks in with this in-the-city nature experience (in Baltimore):

I was standing outside of Penn Station Baltimore on a brisk spring evening waiting in the taxi line sniffing exhaust fumes and generally hating nature at that particular moment. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement above and it was big! Hundreds, nee thousands of sparrows were migrating home, spiraling through the air en masse, never missing a beat—no collisions or mishaps, collecting and depositing smaller groups on its way and all the while singing madly as they celebrated flight. It was dizzying, exhilarating, mesmerizing, and immediately put a huge smile on my face. I felt a strong temptation to tell everyone around me to stop and enjoy the thrill with me. But, this was my private treat and I savored every moment until the whistle blew and I was on my way—it was extremely difficult to tear myself away!


So I’m just sitting there at my desk, compiling the latest news for all you loyal Captivaters, when Larry a few cubes over goes, “Kyle, check it out – turkey!” I thought he was spoiling for a fight (as is Larry’s wont) before quickly realizing he was pointing out the window.

There, indeed, was a turkey. She (I’m guessing from what I read about differences in turkey sexes) was just chillin’, preening away. I watched her for a while as she pecked around for kibbles, intermittently burying her smooth head in her feathers, or just standing still in the shade. At one point she meandered beyond the trees' shadows and shook herself, raising a billow of dust that sparkled for a moment in the sharp sunlight. The beauty of rare experiences is that they are automatically profound, no matter how mundane one person’s may seem to another’s. It was one of those surprisingly life-affirming moments that tend to happen when you get close to nature.

And get close I did, scooting outside after a bit to snap the above pic. Which brings me to your mission, good readers: We want to know about your run-ins with wildlife. Send your encounter-with-nature stories and photos to kscribner@captivate.com.

You may get national recognition via play on Captivate Network. Special bonus consideration to pics of encounters at your workplace.

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FOIA Follow-up

Friday, April 24, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

I posted in January about Greenwire’s attempt, through the Freedom of Information Act, to access the EPA’s sealed endangerment finding on greenhouse gases’ health effects, and about how Greenwire was stymied by an administration that – for whatever reason (cough, Big 3, cough) – didn’t want the truth known.

You can probably see where this is going, so I’d like to state for the record that I don’t like to politicize the environmental debate. Doing so often distracts from getting at the essence of the issue, e.g., is it more important to ensure our citizens’ health or more important to ensure the US auto industry continues to operate as it always has? But how do you discuss that without also getting into capitalism and politics? I’d love to keep the form free from the function, but it just doesn’t work that way.

That’s my way of trying to mitigate what will be this post’s apparent pro-Obama feel. I’m not necessarily pro-Obama; I’m just pro-knowledge (unfortunately I’m also pro-lazy, which sometimes supersedes that knowledge thing, but I won’t get into all that now).

It’s Obama that recently sent a memo telling government agencies they should presume openness when considering FOIA requests. In other words, if a citizen wants to know about something we’re up to, tell them! Obama seems to be saying government secrecy should be the exception, not the rule that it had become under the previous administration.

The classic counterargument to transparency in government – that it’s dangerous – is a bit ridiculous. The benefit of an informed society outweighs most risks. Obama and his team are not stupid – there are sometimes issues of national security, and secrets must sometimes be kept. But is one such secret the fact (which we could pretty much figure out on our own anyway) that chemicals in the air are harmful?

The issue is perhaps best summed up with this, from the Office of Information Policy’s guidance release:

“While recognizing that the ‘disclosure obligation under the FOIA is not absolute,’ and that the FOIA contains exemptions to protect, for example, national security, personal privacy, privileged records, and law enforcement interests, the Guidelines stress that the President has directed agencies not to withhold information merely to prevent embarrassment, or because ‘errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.’"

We have a right to know. And it’s nice knowing our president knows that.

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Greening Your Kids

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Greg Gerber Adventures
Now that I’ve got a couple little ones, that old chestnut about children being the future feels a lot less laughably cliché. (Though the smooth stylings of Randy Watson are still wholly laughable. Sexual Chocolate!)

So when a cool press release/flower seed note arrived about how Curious George is debuting new episodes on Earth Day as part of “PBS KIDS Share the Earth Day,” it made me think about raising my 3-year-old’s awareness. Not like I’m going to have her organizing a recycling drive or anything, but just a way to give ‘green’ some visibility in her tiny-yet-ever-expanding universe – a universe that is, by the way, already dominated by aforementioned monkey.

Come to find out, there are many green campaigns aimed at kids – some probably more noble than others. I’ll list a few I found, and leave it up to you to determine each’s value-instilling value.

PBS is devoting their kids’ programming to Earth Day-related topics. They’ve got new, green-themed Curious George, Arthur and Cyberchase episodes, plus plenty of “eco-focused Web content.” I’ve already broken my promise about limiting my kids’ time in front of the TV (made in that blissfully ignorant time when my wife was still expecting), but my guilt is assuaged a bit knowing that I limit them to PBS. It’s boob-tube, but it’s smart boob-tube.

Disney’s new green venture, Disneynature, is releasing its first film, EARTH. I’ve seen the ads, as we probably all have, and it looks awesome. The press release says the film, opening on Earth Day, “tells the remarkable story of three animal families and their amazing journeys across the planet we call home.” It’s from the guys behind award-winning doc Planet Earth, so expectations are high. Disney doesn’t always get it right, but this seems like a can’t-miss, from a “teaching while entertaining” perspective. Also, they’re planting a tree for every ticket sold. A few days ago, they were already up to 500,000.

Illinois-based plumbing-fixture supplier Gerber, which seems to put a pretty strong emphasis on the EPA’s Water Sense program, has a coloring book detailing the wonderfully wet adventures of Greg Gerber. The story tells kids how they can help save water. The book is supposed to be downloadable at their site, but I couldn’t find it, so I’m not sure how great it is. I’ll leave it at this: I hope the lamely pedestrian name for their protagonist (Greg Gerber sounds like a dentist or a math teacher) isn’t a clue to how engaging the story is.

If they’re not going outdoors anyway, you may as well get the kids into faux-outdoors activities, right? How about through the world’s first gardening video game, Gardening Mama? The New York Times explains how the Nintendo DS release captures the vibrancy of planting by letting youngsters grow 37 varieties of fruits, flowers and vegetables. By the way, this was brought to my attention via Mother Nature Network, which has a nice section of kids-related green news.

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Optimism Abounds

Friday, April 17, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

I’ve noticed something lately.

But I don’t want to jinx it, so I considered not writing about it.

But then I thought about Green Among Gray’s viewer stats, and it occurred to me that my blog postings amount to a mere whisper among the Web cacophony. And everyone knows the amount of jinx you bring upon something is directly proportional to how loudly you proclaim it, so I think we’re safe. So here goes:

The EPA cares.

The Environmental Protection Agency, though it’s accomplished many good things, has a history of being too friendly to big biz. But evidence of late appears to show something refreshing: The agency – and perhaps more importantly, the government entities that give its findings regulatory teeth – is bucking the trend and actually focusing on applying science to help us be conscientious members of our ecosystem.

-- It’s rejigging how it estimates factories’ emissions, a system generally acknowledged to always have underestimated the dangerous chemicals released into the atmosphere.

-- It’s set to establish rules and regs based on the health threats posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

-- It’s begun a new air-monitoring program around schools (thanks, USA Today!)

-- It’s aiming to get all ships that dock in the US to adhere to US emission standards, regardless of their country of origin’s emission standards.

-- It’s getting stricter on testing of chemicals in pesticides.

-- It’s ramping up cleanup efforts at 50 of the nation’s worst Superfund sites – you know, places where lack of oversight in the first place led to toxic-dumplike conditions.

So it would appear the new team in town is indeed a new team, not just the same old, same old. The future looks bright.

Just keep it quiet, alright?


Green Roundup

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

The latest environmental news from around the Web:

The EPA’s endangerment finding on what health risks greenhouse gases may pose passed a White House review, Greenwire reports (via NY Times). This is a biggie. It opens the door to tighter regulation of anything that emits greenhouse gases, from cars to power plants. As I posted in Jan., one possible result of the endangerment finding is allowing states to tell automakers how fuel efficient their cars need to be.

Old friend Sarah Palin has resurfaced, apparently with a new outlook on global warming. At an Anchorage hearing with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – he’s traveling the U.S. as part of the administration’s research into offshore oil and gas leases – the one-time skeptic said, according to the LA Times, that “The dramatic decreases in the extent of summer sea ice, increased coastal erosion, melting of permafrost, decrease in alpine glaciers and overall ecosystem changes are very real to [Alaskans].” But before you go thinking she’s completely changed, understand that Palin is saying this as an argument FOR drilling.

The Automotive X Prize announced 111 teams have been registered for a shot at the $10 million purse, which will be split among the best energy-efficient vehicle designs. This ongoing contest won’t be settled until next year, with firm start and end dates coming this summer. Some of the more interesting details about the registered teams, whose cars will have to get at least the equivalent of 100 mpg: Singer Neil Young has a group; no major automakers are involved, other than India’s biggest, Tata Motors; and all-electric go-getter Tesla is shooting for a piece of the action.

Solar energy has huge upsides, but one big drawback: you need the sun. Cloudy days and nighttime tend to get in the way. So if you can eliminate that sticking point, it’s all plusses. Or so figures Calif. utility PG&E, which signed a deal with Solaren to get 200 megawatts of energy straight from space, where solar power surges round the clock. The CNet report says Solaren’s satellites capture energy and beam it back to Earth as radio frequency, which is then converted to electricity. Apparently all this space-agey stuff will take a while, because PG&E isn’t planning on getting it until 2016.

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Venice Hopes To Turn Curse Into Blessing

Friday, April 10, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

The island of Murano, near Venice
Venice’s storied canals for years have been vexed by blooms of algae, which, beyond coloring the water green, can wreak havoc on boat propellers and stink the place up at certain times of the year (or so I’ve heard; never been, myself).

So does the city, which has been kicking around some 1,600 years, just throw up its manos? Hell, no! They take their lemons and make lemonade – or, in this case, their algae and make oil. They’re turning a negative into a major positiv-o by building a power plant that uses the algae to produce electricity.

Reuters reports the $273 million plant will be just the third of its kind in Europe. It will be producing 40 megawatts of electricity in about two years, Venice's port authority says, enough to power thousands of homes.

The science behind using algae for electricity-producing biomass is complex, but it basically boils down to algae synthesizing sunlight efficiently and having very high oil content. (Full disclosure: I put a call into an expert too late to get his insight for this initial post; watch for update soon.)

Seems on the surface to make a ton of sense. Why can’t the U.S. try the same thing? Plenty of land for algae ponds, plenty of need for electricity.

Let us know if you think algae is a feasible power option by commenting below.

Empire State Building Going Green

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

New York’s Empire State Building, that quintessential downtown skyscraper (and Captivate partner since Feb. 2005), is going green.

Lots of buildings are, but this one is particularly newsworthy. The Empire State Building is a National Historic Landmark with a fabled history, it’s recognized worldwide, and, of course, it’s survived an attack from a giant ape (several, unfortunately). But what really gives the effort extra importance is that it’s a test case that will be used as a model to retrofit buildings for environmental sustainability.

“Commercial and residential buildings account for the majority of the total carbon footprint of cities around the world – over 70% in New York City,” says Anthony E. Malkin, Empire State Building Company. “Beginning in February 2008, the Empire State Building has been used as a test bench to create a replicable process to reduce energy consumption and environmental impacts.”

So how exactly is this greening taking place? Lots of groups are involved. The Clinton Climate Initiative, Jones Lang LaSalle, Johnson Controls and the Rocky Mountain Institute have teamed for the $20 million, five-year project, which is expected to reduce the building’s energy consumption by up to 38%. Among the initiatives, which when implemented will save $4.4 million in annual energy costs, are:

  • A web-based system that allows tenants to efficiently manage power usage.
  • Improved lighting designs, daylighting controls, and plug load occupancy sensors in common areas and tenant spaces to reduce electricity costs and cooling loads.
  • Added insulation behind radiators to reduce heat loss and more efficiently heat the building perimeter.
  • Retrofitting about 6,500 windows to create triple-glazed insulated panels with new components that dramatically reduce both summer heat load and winter heat loss.

Another newsy aspect of the project? Bill Clinton is involved! That’s always fun. The Clinton Climate Initiative “played a central role in convening a unique set of partners that are working to make the Empire State Building retrofit project possible. It is this kind of innovative collaboration that is crucial to protecting our planet and getting our economy up and running again,” the former president said.

Seems like a fantastic initiative, which will help limit the environmental impact of not just this historic building, but, if everything goes according to plan, thousands of other old-time high-rises. So how can Captivate viewers – who utilize these buildings and their energy every day – contribute to the cause?

“Like with many other large-scale environmental projects – such as community recycling – success depends on broad participation,” Mr. Malkin says. “We expect tenants to share our deep commitment to this project, which will ultimately result in energy cost savings for them as well.”

Scroll through the videos below to "CCI Helps Retrofit Empire State Building" to get more details on the project.

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Gore A Revelation

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Indulge me for a moment as I get to Al Gore by way of Kirsten Dunst.

This post was moved to the Captivate 'Out and About' blog -- click here to read the review in its entirety, and to follow Captivate's other ventures out of the elevator!

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.