Greenhouse Design Project

This year I’m taking an architecture class at my school, Friends Seminary NYC. We have a small class of about 6 students, and our first project of the year is collaborating with a few architecture firms on a 5-year redesign that will restructure a large part of the school. The school started designing last year, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet with the two head architects on the project, and start making plans. The main building of our school is connected to two townhouses, both of which are being completely gutted and refitted in the current design. However, the two main parts that we are focusing on are a greenhouse that will be built on the roof of the townhouses, and a peace terrace/garden that will be situated behind the townhouses.

Because the facades on the townhouses are protected by the NYC Historical Society, we have to limit the height and area of our greenhouse. However, our preliminary designs look like your average greenhouse, with insulated glass sides that can open to let air in during the summer, and close to keep the sunlight in during the winter. There are many factors that we will have to think about when designing the greenhouse, in addition to the architectural parts. We will be meeting with some Environmental Science and Biology teachers who are interested in holding classes, so that we can figure out what kinds of plants will be planted, how much they will weigh, etc . . . One idea that we have focused on is having a sustainable water system, either one that will capture rain water, or a circulating system that can water both hanging plants and ground based ones. We’ve also been looking at hydroponics, which could eliminate the need for new, and heavy soil, and at sustainable organisms like certain types of fish that can filter circulating water.

This project will support the local produce initiative that Friends is taking, by providing for the cafeteria a variety of homegrown fruits and vegetables. Ideally, the greenhouse will be both a constructive learning environment through hands-on experience, and a working garden. Although I will likely not be able to see the finished result, it is exciting to be able to work on a project that will eventually make our school more green. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the year.


Before I began my School Year Abroad in Beijing, I received many health related questions and concerns due to the air pollution. Although I was incredibly excited for my year in China’s capital, I cringed at the thought of living in continuous smog. Upon my arrival, I exited the Beijing International Airport into a grey day. At that moment, I knew it would be a long year.

Surprisingly, although I have definitely experienced horrible, polluted, must-wear-mask days, I have also felt the warm sun illuminate my face under the clear, blue, sky. I mention this as a reminder that the media only reports when the pollution is unbearable, not on days when there is none.

Nevertheless, Beijing most certainly has a pollution problem. The main pollution sources that I have identified are coal burning, car exhaust and, I suspect, smoking (although this most likely has a small effect). I have tried asking for the local opinion on air quality, but the thick accents and my low Chinese level impeded me from understanding the Beijinger’s thoughts. Despite my lacking the ability to ask locals about the pollution, I have observed their reactions, the most common of which is to wear a facemask.

Facemasks are sold in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Their ability to protect from the pollution also varies. Some are no more effective than if a slip of paper were covering the mouth, while others possess built-in purification systems. Of the Beijingers I observe on my commute to and from school, some always wear masks, regardless of the clear blue sky above. Simultaneously, some never wear masks, even if the person’s environment is incredibly detrimental to his or her health. I occasionally wear a mask, but find it unnecessary as a daily accessory. Out my window, I often see a building with a star on top. If I barely see it or can’t see make it out in any way, I definitely wear a mask; however, if I see it clearly, I do not. Until now, using my ability to see this building as a means of judging weather or not I should wear a mask, has worked rather well. In addition, I follow the locals. If many are wearing masks, I wear mine as well.

Although Beijing’s pollution is a problem, the grey skies last for, at most, a couple days. During these undesirable days, the locals have learned to implement strategies and adapt to the point where the pollution barely disrupts them.

Katie Bremer

October 20th, 2014

At one time or another, all you readers out there must have heard about hydrofracking, which is also known as hydraulic fracturing, or simply fracking. The process of fracking involves drilling a vertical well thousands of feet down into the ground in order to reach deeply buried deposits of shale (oil and gas), which is found in the bedrock. After drilling down deep into the earth and reaching the shale, the drill then turns and starts drilling horizontally along the shale deposit. “Fracking Fluid”, which is an appalling mixture of water, toxic chemicals– including known carcinogens– and sand is then forced down the well with intense pressure. The fluid spreads out against the horizontal drilling site and fractures the shale. This releases a mixture of trapped gas, or oil, which has come to be known as “natural gas”. The mixture of gas and oil is then pumped back up to the surface via the vertical well. The gas and oil is separated out from the water and sent elsewhere to be processed. Thousands of gallons of contaminated water is then left behind. Over the last couple of decades, people, organizations, and big businesses have all been debating whether or not the contaminated water that’s left over from these drilling operations has the potential to contaminate people’s drinking water or water wells.

Within the last couple of years, new evidence has  arisen about this topic. The evidence proves that the contaminated water does leaks off into people’s private water wells, contaminating their drinking and household water. A group of researchers recently sampled and analyzed water from 141 drinking water wells that are located in northeastern Pennsylvania, an area where extensive amounts of hydrofracking is happening. The people’s drinking wells that were located closer to hydrofracking sites (defined in the study as less than one kilometer– .62 miles– away) had much higher concentrations of methane, ethane, and propane than the water samples from those water wells which were further away from the hydrofracking sites. Methane– an odorless, flammable gas– was found in 82% of the drinking water wells, with the concentrations six times higher for those homes that are less than one kilometer away from a natural gas well. Ethane– an odorless, colorless gas which is also a byproduct of petroleum refining– was 23 times higher in the water samples taken from the wells that were less than one kilometer away from a natural gas well compared to those further away. Propane, another type of gas, was also found in ten of the wells, which were all in an approximate one kilometer radius from at least one natural gas well.

Scientists tried coming up with other explanations for the high concentrations of gas in these wells besides their proximity to natural gas wells, including their proximity to certain geologic formations, such as the Appalachian Structural Front. Scientists thought that the Appalachian Structural Front could have possibly been the source of the natural gas. However, this factor was deemed insignificant, because it didn’t reach the proper level of statistical significance. Also, by looking at the chemical signatures of the gas found in the contaminated water, scientists found that the gases in the water were most likely products of hydrofracking and not from natural circumstances. In the end, the gas companies’ claims that hydrofracking doesn’t contaminate ground water have been proved wrong. Hydrofracking has officially been linked to groundwater pollution.

It has been thought that the leakage of these gases into ground water is due to “poor [natural gas] well construction. Due to the noticeable decline in natural gas prices over the last couple of years, the profit margins of harvesting natural gas have dropped significantly. Due to this, some corners are being cut in order to keep production costs low. Safety procedures can be thrown out when an industry values profits more than they do the general public’s safety.

With regard to this new uncovered information, it is also important to point out that there have been little to no long-term studies done to show the effects of hydrofracking on people living near where it is taking place. This is mostly due to the fact that the government, along with big oil and gas companies, suppress any possible studies that might be conducted. If the natural gas industry continues to grow, it could mean the sickening of potentially millions of people and the further destruction of our environment.

Natural gas isn’t worth hurting 99% of people in order to make massive profits for the other 1%. It’s time to stop using and supporting natural gas and to start using clean, renewable energy instead!


Guelpa, Philip. “World Socialist Web Site.” Scientific Study Confirms Groundwater Contamination by Hydraulic Fracturing -. World Socialist Web Site, 9 July 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Hydrofracking Faucet Flame. Digital image. Http://geopathology-za.wikidot.com/fracking. Wikidot, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s Annual Conference with my school’s sustainability director. It was a day long conference at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in the historical Hyde Park, NY. When I was approached to go with my teacher, I was super excited thinking I was going to be able to hear all about my areas watershed, its ecology and the habitat that it provides, but I was mistaken.

The first time I realized that this day was not going to be as it seemed was when I sat down with my teacher to begin planning our presentation. It went a little like this:

“So, what are we even going to be talking about?” I ask.

“Well, the tittle of our talk is ‘Community Centered Waste-Water Infrastructure,'” he answers.

“… and that is…” I prompt.

“Yes, Megan. We are talking about our community and how its sustainability efforts do revolve around poop.”

“That’s what I thought, Thanks, yup, thanks.”

The reality of going to a school with a notable Living or Eco machine is that everything revolves around it. The poop that is. My school is the first secondary school in the country that has an alternative wastewater system called a Living Machine or also commonly called an Eco Machine. This is a natural ecological system that mimics the natural filtration of wetlands and other plant based filters. My school’s was installed in 1997 as a “sexy” alternative to the failing septic system that had previously been in place. It has been successfully sending clean, filtered water back into the Middle Hudson River Watershed for more than 15 years now having recycled all of the campus’s water including the black and grey water.

At the conference, I quickly realized that the day was basically all along the same lines. Many different presenters, including me, presented about different Eco Machines that are in place all over the world. Believe me, you have never seen such beautiful systems before in your life. Some of the presenters included Skip Backus from The Omega Institute for Sustainable Living and Lauren Valle from John Todd Ecological Design. Both presented about Living Machines that they and their companies had put into different areas. The greatest part about Living Machines is that they are all designed for exactly where they are being put into place. This gives the opportunity for alternate waste water treatment facilities all over the world.

Great examples of Living Machines can be found as follows:



Recently, I watched “Erin Brockovich” (2000) staring Julia Roberts and “Silkwood ”(1983) staring Meryl Streep. Both movies are about a woman taking on a large and powerful energy company. In “Erin Brockovich” the company is PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) and in “Silkwood” the company is Kerr-McGee. Both stories are based on true events and the company’s names and woman’s names are real. I won’t ruin the endings but if you want to watch two women take on big energy these are movies for you. What I love about both films is that the heroines are not particularly educated, are certainly not wealthy, and are both mothers. As a teenage girl interested in environmental issues I really appreciated these films, and I think you will too.


I Have a Dream

by Francisco X. Alarcón

Soñé que había
Un jardín
En cada casa

En las ventanas
De las oficinas
Crecían jitomates

La gente
Se saludaba
Con flores

No había escuela
O iglesia
Sin su jardín

Todos tenían
Buena mano
Para plantar

Y los coches
Eran algo
Del pasado

This is a poem that I came across in Spanish class and it really spoke to me. I think it was more powerful because I took it in slowly and deliberately as I was translating it. It really resonates with the root of the environmental cause being a love for the earth and humans connection to the earth. The simplicity of it makes it even more powerful. In a way it could be seen as the environmental movements version of MLKs “I Have A Dream” speech. This is certainly my dream.
The meaning is very beautiful and relevant so I felt I should share it. Here is my translation:

Dream/ A Wish

I dreamt that there was
A garden
In each house

In the windows
of the offices
Tomatoes grew

The people
Greeted each other
With flowers

There was no school
Or church
Without a garden

Everyone had
A green thumb

And cars
Are a thing
Of the past

Litter—one of the most common, adverse forms of environmental destruction. Obviously litter, as a whole, is absolutely detrimental to Earth’s natural ecosystems. We try and try to cease litter across the nation, yet people continue to drop their waste as though it was a routine. Oftentimes, people view litter as this enormous issue, and that one gum wrapper won’t change the world. People do not realize, however, the true impacts each speck of trash has on each oceanic life form. Therefore, I personally believe that the most effective way to minimize the damage resulting from litter is to discourage individuals from littering specific items of garbage and describing how each bit of waste is destructive. I am not proposing that we should never tell people to stop littering entirely; I am simply proposing that we must especially discourage individuals from littering specific items—those that are most detrimental to the environment—as well.

Various forms of waste crowd the Pacific Ocean, but those that damage the oceanic ecosystems to the greatest extent include the forms of micro trash or miniscule trash bits. Such forms of waste include cigarette buds, Styrofoam pellets, and other grain-sized pieces of garbage. These forms of trash are categorized as the most harmful because several organisms, primarily comprising a wide array of sea birds, ingest these specks of micro trash, feed them to their chicks, and incorporate them into the construction of their nests. As such, I propose that we discourage individuals from littering the “small” things because they actually have the biggest impacts. Additionally, if we pair this discouragement with reasoning, such as that premature chicklings die before they can even launch into flight as a result of being fed micro trash, the great majority of litterers may question the next time they need to put out a cigarette or through a way some tiny particle of waste. Scientifically, it has been proven that if one is directed to pick certain things out from the rest, his brain becomes more focused not only on the certain items that need to be spotted, but also on the image as a whole. If individuals had specific trash items to look out for and understood the consequences of dropping a tiny speck of plastic, fewer people would, in turn, litter not only the most damaging type of trash—micro trash—but also all forms of trash. I, thus, propose this new form of discouraging littering and believe that the results would be far more positive than simply advising the public to refrain from littering entirely.

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