September 2011

New York Interfaith Power & Light is a non-profit organization made up of 87 member congregations of all faiths in the state of New York. We believe that, as people of faith, it is our moral obligation to act as good stewards of the earth.

New York Interfaith Power & Light opposes the Keystone XL “Tar Sands” pipeline because the project it is a tremendous step in the wrong direction, away from a clean energy future, and it will have a devastating effect on the environment.

Tar sands mining occurs in the boreal forest in Canada. The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would pump approximately 900,000 barrels of oil daily through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tar sands oil is hard to extract.

In order to produce one barrel of oil, more than four tons of material must be dug out of open pit mines. In the process of mining, oil companies are devastating the pristine Boreal forest in Canada, which provides critical habitat for wolves, grizzlies, 50 percent of North America’s migratory birds, and other species. For each barrel produced, miners contaminate two to four barrels of freshwater in order to separate the oil from the sand.

Tar sand oil mining will drastically worsen global warming.

Tar sands oil releases at least three times more global warming pollution than conventional oil.  To mine the oil, the Boreal forest is being destroyed. The Boreal forest is a “carbon sink” – storing vast quantities of carbon dioxide and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Preeminent climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute James Hansen has described the Alberta tar sands development as “game-over” for climate change.

The pipeline could contaminate water and land.

The Sierra Club calls Tar Sands oil “the most toxic form of oil on earth” because it contains sulfur, arsenic and heavy metals. The risk of a spill is very real, as spills occur with alarming frequency. More than 1.4 million gallons leaked out of oil pipelines such as this in 2010 alone. Consequences could be dire, as the pipeline would pass over and through the Ogallala aquifer, a source of drinking water for millions and source of 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. Indigenous people (called First Nations in Canada) are protesting against the pipeline, claiming that exploitation of the oil sands has already caused health problems at Fort Chipewyan.


The proposed XL pipeline will undermine our best efforts to develop a clean energy future for the Northeast and for America. If built, Keystone XL will lock us into a future in which our nation is dependent on one of the dirtiest and costliest fuels in the world.

This matters especially to people of faith as we look at injustice in the impact of global climate change. The consequences–drought, flooding, food shortages, and civil strife–are borne by poor countries and poor people, those lacking the resilience and resources to adapt.

Our faith also compels us to speak for intergenerational justice. Faith takes the long view rather than the immediate return in the next election or economic cycle. We speak not only for our grandchildren, but also to the “seventh generation” as the Iroquois Indians would say, in asking that the environment be protected from the long-term consequences of the pipeline.


My (More or Less) Green Kitchen, Part II

Green KitchenPatricia K. Townsend – NYIPL Board Member
(Continued from Part 1)

As I mentioned in last month’s column, when building our new kitchen our principle #1 was:  Investigate all the materials. Principle #2 was Buy things made as close to home as possible.

Investigating where things were made turned me into a detective and a devotee of googling. I became obsessed with finding unfinished wood bar stools that we could paint with bright colors, in the 24” height suitable for our new island. I believe that we may now own the last two such stools made in the United States. I found them in the basement of a store in Rochester, New York. The manufacturer of one was a company in the Adirondacks that went out of business. The Oregon manufacturer of the other has now started to sell stools made in Vietnam out of timber shipped from Oregon!

Principle #3 was Minimize energy use.

We left the decisions about insulation to the experts but we were actively involved in the search for lighting, most of which is now made in China. (There goes Principle #2 again.)

We are happy with our tankless hot water heater, which quickly makes enough hot water for a houseful of guests to shower but doesn’t keep a tank of water hot when we are away from home.

We used a Kill A Watt meter to monitor electricity use.  That helped us decide that we should replace our 35-year-old working freezer with a new one.  Careful analysis showed us that the new freezer that needs defrosting is more energy efficient than a frost-free model with the Energy Star label. Thirty-five years of experience in defrosting the old one taught me that the task is easy and gets me into a routine of sorting things out to make sure that I haven’t overlooked any of last year’s crop of strawberries or green beans.

Principle #4 was ReUse and Recycle.

We moved the appliances from the old kitchen if they passed the energy-efficiency test. We also saved money when our contractor let my husband Bill salvage the cedar siding and shingles from the old north wall that is now an inside wall for the carpenters to use on part of the new construction. Bill is a master at re-using– building a spiral herb garden and a patio from brick salvaged from the old chimney.

We enjoy cooking and eating in the new kitchen, especially when the produce is from our own backyard vegetable and herb garden.  We don’t have any chickens in the back yard (yet), though we’ve found a farmer who sells us free-range chickens to keep in that energy-efficient freezer.

My (More or Less) Green Kitchen, Part I

By Patricia K. Townsend, NYIPL Board Member

When we retired, it was clear that the old kitchen simply would not do. It was so small that two people couldn’t work on dinner together nor could we eat lunch and breakfast in it. Family dinners in the dining room had been elegant; carrying everything back and forth three times a day was another matter.  Besides, the dining room table was great space for spreading out big projects.

We had always hoped to build a state-of-the-art environmentally sound new house, but when we considered doing that in Buffalo-Niagara, a metropolitan area with more than enough existing housing, that seemed foolish. What spot could we find anywhere where we would still be within walking distance of groceries, drugstore, library, churches, post office, bank, and great restaurants?

At the same time, we realized that opening up the north wall of our house to add a new kitchen would give us access to the “guts” of our house to add more insulation and a more efficient heating and cooling system than our outsized 1923 steam radiators. The old kitchen could become a utility room, bringing the washer, dryer, and freezer up from the deep dark cellar and making space down there for woodworking tools.

We hired a green architect, Kevin Connors, whose design picked up all the 1920s arts and crafts details of the old house so that you can’t even tell where the addition starts and leaves off.  This despite the fact that the new siding is a composite of cement and sawdust where the old is cedar.  Our principle #1 was: Investigate all the materials! That meant we chose linoleum and ceramic tile over vinyl flooring.  We were shocked that many of our friends and even flooring salesmen didn’t know that vinyl is not the same thing as linoleum: one being made of petroleum by an extremely polluting industry and the other of linseed oil and wood.

Principle #1 often enough came into conflict with our Principle # 2: Buy things made as close to home as possible.  Linoleum is made in Europe. That bothered us for a while, until we decided that there was absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be made in the U.S. again, as it used to be, if there were sufficient demand. We weren’t only considering shipping (though ocean shipping is more fuel efficient than trucking). We also wanted to give a boost to local manufacturing in our depressed Western New York economy, so we were delighted to find gorgeous cabinets of Northeastern hickory assembled in nearby Lockport.

Aware that granite countertops were all the rage and would make our house more saleable down the line, we considered granite for about two minutes before learning just how crazy that fashion is. What were they thinking?  Granite is not approved for food preparation (too porous and not resistant to bacteria and fungus).  Massive chunks of granite are shipped here from Brazil and China. Principles 1 and 2 checked off before we even decided on a color. We chose engineered quartz instead and we love it. That too could have come from Israel or Italy, but we held out for Minnesota or Quebec.

(to be continued…)

September Reflection and Prayer

By Nina Nichols, NYIPL Board Chair

Here in these waning days of August, I think of the words of poet Mary Oliver in The Summer Day reflecting on creation and an embodied response to the wonder of it all. She closes with the question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?”

In Eugene Peterson’s Message version of Psalm 8:6 it says: “You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your genesis-charge.” I am sure I am not the first to wonder if we understand the assignment.

Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God… and so is this wonderful world… and so am I when I am most reflective of You and your call to create, to protect, to tend and care and serve and love… Help me to claim my holiness, my deep connection to You. Help me to live out my holiness in the way I speak, shop, vote, and walk upon the world and relate to the brothers and sisters with whom I share it. Help me make the most of this one life in demonstrating that I understand what it is you ask of me.


Please feel free to copy and use this prayer as desired. If you would like to submit a reflection and/or prayer, please send it to nyipl@ymail.com.

CO2 Video

This video is a time-series visualization of the global distribution and variation of the concentration of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide observed by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the NASA Aqua spacecraft. For comparison, it is overlain by a graph of the seasonal variation and interannual increase of carbon dioxide observed at the Mauna Loa, Hawaii observatory. Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Scientific Visualization Studio. Global warming forecasts.

NYIPL’s Position on Solar Jobs Legislation

2011 Solar Jobs Bill
A.5713 (Englebright) / S.4178 (Maziarz)

Statement: New York Interfaith Power and Light strongly supports the New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011.  The bill will position New York as a renewable energy leader by establishing a sustainable market for solar energy development.  Increasing New York’s reliance on solar energy will provide a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices, reduce peak demand, improve the quality of the air we breathe, and drive economic development across the state.

The legislation draws from and improves upon successful models in other states, and supports a broad diversity of business models, customer types and technologies in order to ensure market growth in all market sectors.  The bill creates the long-term certainty necessary for solar investment, while continuously driving lower-cost installations.  And since solar creates more jobs per MW than any other power source (on a capacity basis), it’s an excellent driver of local economic development.  Over the course of the program, the proposed policy will create jobs across a wide spectrum of professions, ranging from business managers and salespeople to engineers, installers and electricians.  With an established local market, New York will have the opportunity build a manufacturing base, and play a leadership role in this important energy resource of the future.
Solar is well matched to New York’s power needs, as its highest production comes in the summer when the state needs power the most.  This correlation to system peak means that an investment in solar reduces the need for the most expensive, and often most polluting, electricity generation supply.  In addition, solar energy’s modularity means that it can be sited within congested distribution networks, saving on electric line network upgrades and reducing the need for new transmission.
Jumpstarting the solar industry in New York will have a gross impact of less than 1 percent to total statewide spending on electricity—and that’s not counting the benefits of transitioning from volatile, polluting fossil fuels to fuel-free renewable resources.  It’s a small price to pay to start saving with the sun.
This bill will create new jobs, increase energy independence, reduce global warming pollution, and improve electricity system reliability.  It’s what New York needs, and we strongly urge its immediate passage.

NYIPL: New York Interfaith Power & Light is a faith-based non-profit organization that serves the state of New York.  Our mission is to support congregations of all faiths in their actions to curb global warming and protect the sacredness of the earth. We currently have 79 member congregations, and regularly communicate with 900 people via our email list.

We are part of a national network of congregations of all faiths concerned about the effects of global warming and power plant pollution.

Contact: Janna Stieg Watkins, NYIPL Executive Director (315) 256-0078

Tibetan Glaciers Melting, Dalai Lama Claims

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post

NEW DELHI — The Dalai Lama said Saturday that India should be seriously concerned about the melting of glaciers in the Tibetan plateau as millions of Indians use water that comes from there.
The Tibetan spiritual leader quoted Chinese experts as saying that the Tibetan glaciers were retreating faster than any elsewhere in the world.

He called for special attention to ecology in Tibet. “It’s something very, very essential,” he said.

The glaciers are considered vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be threatened.

As these major rivers come from the Tibetan plateau and “since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glacier, so you have certain right to show your concern about ecology of that plateau,” the Dalai Lama told an audience of about 400 Indians.

He was speaking at the centenary celebrations of India’s former President R. Venkataraman in New Delhi.

“India, a free country, I think should express more serious concern, that’s I think important. This is nothing to do with politics, just everybody’s interest, including Chinese people also,” he said.

Rising demand has put a strain on access to freshwater in India and China – which are home to more than a third of the world’s population.