Renewable energy, 100%

Feldheim is a small town(population 150) located in the rural eastern corner of Germany, just 40 miles south of Berlin. In the time of a divided Germany Feldheim was simply a small communist collective farm; Today it is one of the best examples of renewable self-sufficiency in the world.

It all started in 1995. The town’s farmers were worried about plummeting prices for their produce, and rising prices for their energy, so began to look for sources of extra income. They soon discovered that they could rent out their land to energy companies, who wanted to install wind turbines in the area. A local renewable energy company, Energiquelle, invested in the land and drew up plans for a wind farm. Before long, the landscape was dotted with over forty turbines, generating renewable energy for the grid, and extra income for the farmer’s families.


Wind turbines in Feldheim, Germany

This prospect of renewable energy was just too good, so in 2008 the same energy company bought a plot of land just five miles outside of town and built a 284-panel solar farm. That same year the town of Feldheim and Energiquelle established a joint venture, Feldheim Energy & Co. The new company constructed a bio gas factory that converts pig manure and unused corn waste into heat, making us of the community’s 700 some pigs and 1,700 acres of farmland. With the combined power of the wind turbines, solar panels, and bio gas factory, Feldheim was producing all it’s own energy with renewable sources by 2009. That’s right, one hundred percent of it! The only part of the system that the town did not control was the grid itself, supplied by the large utility company E.on, but that obstacle was overcome soon enough. Each of the town’s 150 residents personally contributed 3,000 euros(around 4,000 dollars) to build their very own power grid. With the help of Energiquelle, the European Union and government subsidies, the smart-grid was completed in 2010, making Feldheim completely energy independent, and the only town in Germany with it’s own mini-grid.


The Feldheim bio gas factory

Today the residents of Feldheim can reap the benefits of all their hard work. The smart-grid allows all the energy produced by the wind, solar and bio gas farms to be fed straight to the consumers homes, the price of which is decided at regular community meetings. Locals now pay 31 percent less for electricity, and 10 percent less for heating than what they did before. The town consumes less than 1 percent of the energy produced by the solar panels and wind turbines, and is able to sell the rest back to the market. The bio gas plant alone supplies the whole community with heating, saving an average of 160,000 liters of heating oil annually. As an added bonus, it also produces over three million gallons of high-quality fertilizer each year, which is put to use by the agricultural cooperative. With the working bio gas plant and now growing visitors to the small town, they have virtually erased their unemployment rate, which is roughly 30 percent in the other villages of Brandenburg state.

Feldheim is a prime example of what we can attain with a future of renewable energy. If a tiny town in the corner of windswept Germany can do something so incredible, why can’t we all?

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After the first day at my summer internship, I promised myself I would never drink a Coca-Cola again. Since this last June, I have interned for the Massachusetts Sierra Club to help lobby to renew the Massachusetts Bottle Bill. The current Bottle Bill in Massachusetts offers a nickel deposit on carbonated beverage containers. Since the bill’s passage in 1983, over 35 billion containers have been redeemed, contributing to a healthier environment, cleaner and safer communities and a stronger economy. The Massachusetts Sierra Club has been petitioning the State House to update the bill to include non-carbonated beverages, such as water, iced tea, and sports drinks. The Sierra club has amassed over 400,00 signatures in favor the updated bill in Massachusetts. The implementation of the new law would nearly quadruple recycling rates in Massachusetts. When I first learned about the bill, I felt compelled to help advocate for such a necessary piece of legislation.

Unfortunately, big beverage companies and coalitions don’t feel the same way about the Bottle Bill. The American Beverage Association recently invested over $5 million to fight the bill. Stop and Shop also donated $300,000. Mr. Jeff Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Greater Springfield (Massachusetts), complained that expanding the bill would place a “burden on businesses,” since they would have to give up space to accommodate “use for retail to handle bottle returns.”

Mr. Ciuffreda’s argument is precisely why we need to update the Bottle Bill. Big businesses can afford to accommodate important environmental concerns, particularly if it only means temporarily dedicating one of their dozen warehouses to used-bottles. In fact, rather than opposing such a necessary referendum, businesses like the Massachusetts Stop and Stop franchises should embrace their new leadership role in recycling and conservation. Such acceptance would promote big businesses as “green” and “environmentally-friendly.”

In 10 days, this will all be over. On November 4th, the citizens of Massachusetts will vote either “Yes” or “No” to update the Bottle Bill. After a long summer of phoning State House representative aides and writing letters to radio and television stations, I will finally get an answer for my work this summer.

But this campaign has helped me discover the simplicity of environmental political advocacy – green petitioners are almost always right. If the Sierra Club’s proposed bill were to revise taxes or social welfare in Massachusetts, there would most likely be a rational opposition. Except here, it is clear that we must update the Massachusetts Bottle Bill. Massachusetts will quadruple its recycling rates and significantly reduce waste. Big beverage associations can afford to fund practical green initiatives – especially if they can donate over $5 million dollars to fight a bill. On November 4th, I invite all Massachusetts voters to circle “Yes” on Question 2. I invite all United States citizens to encourage these Massachusetts voters to do so for the sake of conservation.




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.



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