High School Nostalgia: Our Days with Dekalb School of the Arts

Witches, monsters, and popular icons were in no short supply on Halloween morning as the HII crew walked down the halls of DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA). We partnered with the Atlanta high school to work on media and production of Human Impacts Atlanta, the first of the Human Impacts Salons that launched our national climate tour. Following Human Impacts Atlanta on Wednesday evening, the HII crew went to the school’s production studio to interview some of our esteemed panelists. We knew we’d be blown away by our one-on-one conversations with community leaders such as:

However, we didn’t expect to find such bright, mature, and creative students facilitating the interviews.

DAS students film as HII ED and Founder, Tara DePorte, interviews panelist Daniel Blackman

DAS students film as HII ED and Founder, Tara DePorte, interviews panelist Daniel Blackman

A few of the students from Frank Mastrogiacomo’s Media and Technology class sat behind the camera as we interviewed our guest speakers. Growing up in a public school system, I was shocked by the passion and maturity these students held. But it doesn’t come as a surprise when you hear about the requirements for going to DSA. In order to be a student at DSA, you must maintain a GPA of 3.0 and declare two different majors in the arts. The school is rated as one of the top 200 Best High Schools in 2013. It’s no wonder why you will find an aspiring computer scientist who also majors in dance and creative writing, or an upcoming spoken word graduate who will have a hard time picking one of the many colleges that are pursuing her. After hearing about our work at HII, “Mr. M’s” class was eager to get involved.

HII's Community Relations Manager, LeAnne Harvey, talks with DAS students

HII’s Community Relations Manager, LeAnne Harvey, talks with DAS students

DSA students are currently working on editing our footage of the salon. A wonderful partnership was formed: they get professional experience to carry them to their next endeavors, and we receive quality video and audio clips. What was most gratifying about our days at the high school was leaving knowing that we instilled an excitement about bringing art and climate together. We can’t wait to continue this relationship with DSA students through our programs such as Ecopreneurs, the Human Impacts Salon Series, and 10 Days of Climate Action.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter to see some of the amazing work they are doing. And we hope to see you at our next Human Impact Salon in D.C. on Thursday, December 5.

LeAnne Harvey, Community Relations Manager

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Pipelines and People

On the night of September 24th, I walked down 26th street between Park Ave and Lexington and ran into a quiet gathering of people. Mechthild Schmidt Feist was in the midst of setting up a projector to screen a short video installation on the side of a building and she had plenty of her neighbors out for support. The animated  video is about dirty energy, fracking, and the Keystone XL pipeline. Mechthild Schmidt Feist’s work was a part of Human Impacts Institute’s 10 Days of Climate Action 2013!

Mechthild Schmidt Feist Pipelines work!

Mechthild Schmidt Feist’s Pipelines work!

Mechthild, an artist and professor at New York University, has been working with animation graphics for over 20 years. After learning about issues related to energy consumption, GHG emissions, and water contamination, she felt an urgency to do something about it. That is when the idea dawned on her to use her art to engage a new kind of audience with these environmental issues. She explains,

“I chose two different issues: the Tarsands KXL pipeline and fracking. The visualization means to show both destruction and the already existing sustainable alternatives. Reducing the ideological debate to a visual statement is meant to address the doubting, disenfranchised, or ‘too rushed to care’ citizen and build interest and support on these two issues.”

Pipelines2

The quiet gathering didn’t stay quiet for long. The piece sparked some heated and fascinating discussions. What was inspiring was the diversity of people that actually came to enjoy the event or happened to stop as they walked by. A financial analyst, a sound designer, a student from NYU, some tourists from the UK, and a young girl taking her dog for a walk are just a few of the many people that took notice of Mechthild’s stirring piece. I was surprised by how many people were actually unaware of hydraulic fracturing and the Keystone Pipeline. It was rewarding to truly build support on the two issues Mechthild chose to focus on.

LeAnne Harvey, Community Relations Manager

 

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One Down, Eight To Go: Reflections on Human Impacts Atlanta

In 2013-2014 the Human Impacts Institute is partnering with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to explore how we can make climate change personal to our communities and re-communicate climate issues to the American public in creative and engaging ways through our “Creative Climate” Human Impacts Salons series. Working with local partners in eight U.S. cities and in Berlin, this year-long tour bring together creative visionaries with community leaders, environmental experts, and activists in a salon-style event of performance and in-depth discussion to highlight local action, resources, and solutions to addressing one of the most pressing issues of our times–climate change. 

After much planning, the Human Impacts Institute’s highly anticipated Human Impacts Atlanta finally took place at the Goethe-Zentrum in Atlanta’s own Colony Square. Attendees included political figures and activists, college students, artists, and professionals from a multitude of sectors. In keeping with Human Impacts driving question of “where do we put our trust in changing climate?”, guests were asked to share where they placed their trust with colored “dots” indicating media, faith/spirituality, government, or science. “Trust Dots” were placed on nametags, and guests were then able to learn and discuss why they chose their respective colors. Talk about open communication!
Human Impacts Atlanta Salon

Human Impacts Atlanta Salon

Kevin Dunn, a local gospel singer, kicked off the night with an inspiring rendition of “How Great Thou Art”, and Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald of the Georgia Public Service Commission was honored for his advocacy for solar energy before the conversation kicked into high gear. With Human Impacts Institute’s Executive Director, Tara DePorte, as moderator (hear her Southeast Green Radio interview about Human Impacts Atlanta here>>), speakers from all different backgrounds conversed candidly about what is needed to inspire action, why climate change is considered fact by some and opinion by others, and how we can use our own resources to make real commitments to acting on climate challenges.

Panelists included Michael Weber, Energy Policy Advisor, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany; Jay Hakes, author and former Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library; Alexis Chase, Executive Director, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light; Debbie Dooley, Co-Chairman Atlanta Tea Party and Co-Founder Green Tea Coalition; Shane Owl-Greason, Co-Founder, Georgia Solar Utilities; Susan Pavlin, Director, Global Growers Network; and Daniel Blackman, Environmental Justice Advocate.  More inspiring performances from contemporary dancer Darbie Duff, and spoken word artist Yani kept the energy in the room high and audience members on the edge of their seats. The energy in the room reached its peak when Alexis Chase, minister and Director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, asserted  “climate change is real, y’all and we need to do something about it!”

Human Impacts Atlanta Panelists!

Human Impacts Atlanta Panelists!

As over 80 participants from the Atlanta area joined together to explore how our “missions impact emissions”, conversations dealt with issues as far reaching “what an environmentalist looks like”–touching on the need to expand the U.S. environmental movement beyond a traditionally white, politically-left, and middle-class audience–to how trust in the free market economy can bring conservatives on board the renewable energy train.  The diversity of the panelists, combined with breakout sessions where audience members got to actively brainstorm local resources and actions available for taking climate action, created an event where participants were both inspired and open to new partnerships.  Audience members ranged from community activists and leaders from local corporations, such as Coca Cola and Siemens, to Tea Party members and environmental lawyers.  
Many of those participating said they met over five new potential partners, from local groups that had not yet heard of, and even two of the panelists linked up during the event to join forces in developing an urban gardening program.  As the salon series aims to both highlight the important work being done in U.S. communities to address climate change and to bridge new partnerships–from local to global–the event was a great success.  
Human Impacts Atlanta guests networking Credit: Germany.info

Human Impacts Atlanta guests networking
Credit: Germany.info

For those of us intimately involved in the planning of the event, the knowledge and commitment to stewardship and environmental justice for future generations expressed by our speakers and attendees was impressive and truly rewarding to hear. We hope to create the same dynamic, action-oriented atmosphere at our next Salon in Washington, D.C.  You can learn more about the Human Impacts Salon Series here– we may be coming to a city near you. See you there!
This event wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our amazing partners: 
  • The Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of the German government, which aims to support platforms and partnerships that help Americans and Germans exchange their know-how and to pave the way for joint solutions;
  • Georgia Solar Utilities, Inc. which has created a sustainable market place for the solar industry in Georgia;
  • Green Tea Coalition which seeks for common ground across the political spectrum to empower consumers to unlock America’s full energy potential;
  • Virgin Breeze who created products engineered to instantly kill smog and greenhouse gases at the surface and purify the air around it;
  • German Consulate General in Atlanta is the official representation of the German government to the southeast of the Unites States. The consular district includes Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee; and
  • Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta supports and informs all those who would like to teach or study German and are interested in Germany and its culture.

by Tess Clark, Development Manager, Human Impacts Institute, and Tara DePorte, Executive Director, Human Impacts Institute

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A Day for the Trees

It’s the trees that we were celebrating on September 22nd—day three of  Ten Days of Climate Action 2013.

The highlight of the day is Anthony Heinz May’s sculpture installed in Socrates Sculpture Park at Queen’s waterfront. May’s work Re: Spectré is based on a tree trunk uprooted by Superstorm Sandy. For May, his work is about the blurring of lines between the real and artificial, by exposing relationships between humans, nature and technology. The sculpture is also part of the EAF13: 2013 Emerging Artists Fellowship Exhibition, which is on view daily at the park through March 31st, 2014. The artist’s other pieces will be on display at Dumbo Arts Festival 2013.

Re:Spectre

Re:Spectre

Alongside with May’s inspiring sculpture, Human Impacts Institute encouraged park visitors to hug a tree and to challenge the preconceived notion of “tree huggers” or “environmentalists.” The intention is to invite New Yorkers to connect to nature and to the local environment, and to show that everyone can be a treehugger—people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds connect to nature, rely on the environment and can be (or are) tree huggers. During the two hours when the sign was up, not every passerby took

Spectators Hug Trees!

Spectators Hug Trees!

the step to hug the tree, but the impact of the initiative didn’t stop there. Some looked at the sign and pondered in front of the tree, and others took pictures of the tree and the sign. An unnoticeable impression might spark change and action.

Besides hugging a tree, you can also adopt a tree online through MillionTreesNYC.

Li Tang, Design and Marketing Intern

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10 Days of Climate Action 2013 Launch Party!

The Human Impacts Institute had a sweet start to its 10 Days of Climate Action events. As the first of the ten climate-themed events, the launch party was designed to reach a new crowd of prospective HII participants from amongst the usual patrons at the Little Cupcake Bakeshop and the Freitag both on Prince Street in Soho. All of the events during 10 Days of Climate Action sought to spread the message of climate change issues through creative methods of engagement, and the Launch Party was no exception.

launchparty1

Everyone likes cupcakes and beer. That was the idea for the evening as we set up our climate activity and education station. Our assumption turned out to ring very true as the event began, lured in by the hand-drawn sidewalk chalk advertisements outside or else going about their evenings inside of the businesses and being pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to get their cupcake for free or sip a beer-wine hybrid as they browsed the recycled bags of Freitag.

I was stationed for the first hour at the Bakeshop. I asked the customers entering if they would like to try to win their cupcake for free. Not everyone did, which surprised me slightly because they were just going to buy cupcakes anyway, but I moved on quickly since there was always someone coming through the door. If they showed interest, I would have them put down their name and email, then spin the climate wheel for their climate question. A number of people did not know the answer or fell for the trick questions (the U.S is no longer the nation with the highest emissions, China surpassed us in 2010, etc.) but many were more knowledgeable and were rewarded with their choice of cupcake. Even if they were just good guessers, it was great to see some people were really engaged in the topics. Several people wanted to talk more about environmental or climate-change issues, but there just wasn’t enough time to chat extensively, unfortunately.

HII 10 Days of Climate Action Kickoff!

HII 10 Days of Climate Action Kickoff!

The scene was a little different over at Freitag, once I joined that stop on Launch Party tour. I was able to have longer climate conversations with a few different attendees. The architect of the store was there, with his wife and adorable son. The latter enjoyed running around knocking over anything he could reach, in a cute way of course. I got a few emails from people visiting the store, and some of the HII board members took some fun superhero pictures. I witnessed to some serious climate based conversations. Overall, it seemed as if everyone involved enjoyed the Launch Party, and if that isn’t a sure sign of a successful 10 Days of Climate Action kickoff, I don’t know what is!

Rose Bowen, Environmental Leadership Intern

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Human Impacts Institute in Panama: Cucuà Coffee

SanMiguelLand

San Miguel Centro

On behalf of Human Impacts Institute, I recently traveled to Panama and Costa Rica for an international exchange program funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Professional Fellows Division. The Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) administered by the University of Connecticut’s Global Training and Development Institute is also a collaboration with the University of Peace in Costa Rica. This is Human Impacts Institute’s second time participating in the exchange. The EEP took professionals in the social entrepreneurship, environmental, community development, and health sectors in the Northeastern United States and countries in Central and South American including Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Peru to partake in an NGO job shadowing exchange program. As a Professional Fellow I traveled to Panama to job shadow Alberto Pascual. Alberto owns is own NGO called Fundación Communidad that confronts sustainable and community development in Panama. Latin American Professional Fellows were provided a small stipend from the U.S. State Department to initiate a project that economically empowers local communities with the hopes that a long lasting project and international collaboration would form. Below are a description of Alberto’s amazing project and my impressions of it.

Coffe

Coffee Plant in San Miguel Centro

Alberto’s project for the Professional Fellows Exchange is a coffee project titled, Cucuà Coffee. Alberto is working with an indigenous community in San Miguel Centro, high in the hills of the Coclé Province and is helping them create a coffee brand. The indigenous community, called the Cucuà, naturally grows coffee around their community (which consists of 30-40 families). They received organic coffee seeds from an organic farm years ago and instead of creating a planation of coffee crops in tiered rows and columns, they simply spread the seeds around their town as if to say “if this works, great. If not, that’s great too”.  And, wow, did it work! Coffee plants, huge and vibrant coffee plants, grew everywhere around the community, naturally.  The Cucuà are able to have coffee plants spread throughout their community because they live in higher elevations away from urban life and have a nice sized river that runs through the town- no irrigation necessary. I was simply amazed. When Alberto told me that we were going to see naturally grown coffee I pictured rows and rows of short shrub-like plants, shaded by large trees with a simple, non-invasive irrigation system.  What I saw was nothing like that. As someone who is interested in pursuing a career directed towards sustainable agriculture and nutrition, this sight was fascinating for me. Yes, sustainable agriculture IS real AND possible. The Cucuà lived with the land, not on the land.

Cucua Coffee Plants in San Miguel Centro!

Cucua Coffee Plants in San Miguel Centro!

 

More than the coffee itself that amazed me was the Cucuà community. They are truly amazing people. Alberto chose to not show me any pictures of the Cucuà people or neighborhood beforehand so that I could experience it for myself. However, he did tell me that they had no electricity and received most of their income from their handicrafts

Community adults working on Cucua natural handicrafts created with tree bark and paints made from local flower stems and roots

Community adults working on Cucua natural handicrafts created with tree bark and paints made from local flower stems and roots

and agricultural products (coffee). What I pictured in my mind, as a young adult from the Midwest traveling to an indigenous community in the mountains of inner Panama (a country I had never travelled to previously), was not what I experienced. The Cucuà have no electricity and only one pay phone for the whole community. Though they live a life that by many would be considered ‘behind the times’, I found them to be very forward thinking and possessing a modern mindset. I came to this conclusion after meeting Jose and Maria of the Cucuà. Jose heads an organization called Asociación Cultural Y Ecologica Cucuá. This organization was created by the Cucuà to preserve their culture and advance in a way that is beneficial for the entire community. All of the Cucuà children go to a nearby school (up and down a lot of very large hills) during the day so all members are literate. During the day, while the children are at school, community adults gather in

The mask of the Cucua National costume. They have won many national awards throughout Panama for their cultural handicrafts

The mask of the Cucua National costume. They have won many national awards throughout Panama for their cultural handicrafts

the community center and create their handicrafts, which they have won many national awards for. In present day, it is common for indigenous community members that live like the Cucuà to flee to the city for work opportunities. However, most find themselves living in the slums surrounding the city often living and working in horrible conditions. I found the Cucuà very modern in the sense that they treated their land well and with respect and found opportunity for growth and financial well being in their community. Alberto’s Cucuà Coffee project will aid the Cucuà, helping them acquire economic stability.  The community is happy to work with and develop a relationship with Alberto as he has the community’s best interest in mind. In the past, the Cucuà has sold their coffee crop to larger organizations that have given them only a very small portion of the product

Jose and Maria of Cucua, and Alberto Pascual

Jose and Maria of Cucua, and Alberto Pascual

earnings. Alberto’s organization, however, will be returning almost full profit back to the Cucuà. After the first round of coffee was sold to Alberto’s inner circle, he and Jose have decided to take steps to improve the coffee production process. Alberto hopes to secure funding to acquire a solar generated grinder and roaster to quicken production. With the next round of coffee to be sold, Alberto will also be placing the new branding, that Alberto has designed himself, on the coffee bags.

Alberto's Cafe Cucua branding!

Alberto’s Cafe Cucua branding!

Further down the line, Alberto will be working to acquire proper health codes so that he can sell his product in shops. It is our hope, after the Professional Fellows Exchange Program, that we continue to collaborate on the Cucuà Coffee project and to hopefully bring the brand to coffee shops in Brooklyn, NY. Keeping our fingers crossed!

Melanie Griffin, Outreach Coordinator

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A Week in Panama: HII in Latin America for Economic Empowerment Exchange Program

I recently represented Human Impacts Institute in an international program funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Professional Fellows Division. Human Impacts Institute was choses to participate in The Economic Empowerment Program (EEP), administered by the University of Connecticut’s Global Training and Development Institute in collaboration with the University of Peace in Costa Rica. The EEP took professionals in the social entrepreneurship, environmental, community development, and health sectors in the Northeastern United States and countries in Central and South American including Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Peru to partake in an NGO job shadowing exchange program. As part of the exchange program my Professional Fellow counterpart, Alberto Pascual, traveled to New York City last April to job shadow Human Impacts Institute (HII). Pascual, who himself works in the field of sustainable and community development, was able to see how HII confronts these issues in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. In August, it was my turn to travel to Alberto’s home of Panama and learn about Panama and how his organization, Fundación Communidad, confronts sustainable and community development in the country.  From experiencing the extreme metro center of Panama City to the very rural San Miguel Centro, I left Panama finding it to be a country possessing beautiful landscapes, a rich and complex history, and diverse lifestyles with a push and pull of preserving its historical culture and development.

My first day in Panama City was eye opening. I was exposed to the whole city- from the old, historical areas to the very new and modern. The eldest, most historic area of the city, Casco Viejo, has been in existence since the late 1600’s. Casco Viejo is Spanish for “Old Quarter”. Casco Viejo holds very aged, Spanish influenced architecture and is now considered the artsier, more bohemian area of Panama City. There is also a bit of French

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

influence in as the French Embassy is located in the heart of Casco Viejo. It is a very touristy area of Panama City with its incredibly beautiful views of Panama City, many boutique hotels and restaurants, and long shaded walkway where national handicrafts are sold to visitors. Casco Viejo possesses true charm. It is here that one can truly see the contrast between historic Panama and the strong influences of the U.S., Europe, and Asia with the view of the shiny high rises of Panama City.

The new Panama City from Casco Viejo

The new Panama City from Casco Viejo

The new areas of the city are where you would see the abundance of high rises. While in the center of the city, I remember feeling taken aback at how completely different my premonitions about Panama City were compared to what I was seeing.  There is a great deal of influence from all over the world; Italian restaurants, French restaurants, Taco Bells, and malls with Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Hello Kitty stores, you name it really. On one hand, the clashing and combining of cultures is great: more economic opportunity for trade and intercultural understanding. On the other, I feel that the international influence resulting from the Panama Canal is threatening Panamanian culture and identity.

Beautiful scenery of El Valle de Anton

Beautiful scenery of El Valle de Anton

 

 

After being in the city my first day, it was time to travel to the interior of Panama. Our first stop was El Valle de Anton in the mountains. El Valle is a beautiful little town with one main road where small and locally owned shops and restaurants stand. We took a very short hike just in the area behind our hotel. Beautiful rainforests full of butterflies, rivers, and flora and fauna right outside your back door- not bad, not bad at all! While in El Valle, against beautiful and mountainous scenery, Alberto informed me more about his Professional Fellows Exchange Program project that he has been working on. This amazing project is explained more in depth in the blog “The Cucuà Coffee Project”.

elvalledeanton

El Valle de Anton

 

The next morning, we traveled to Penonomé in the Coclé province to get a head start on our travels to the Cucuà Coffee Project. Penonomé, like El Valle de Anton, was a small town. However, unlike El Valle de Anton, Penonomé seemed to have more commercial institutions and travelers going through the town. It was a very rainy day in Penonomé as Alberto further prepared me for the coffee project the next day. The next morning we woke at dawn and traveled up to San Miguel Centro to see The Cucuà Coffee Project.  (Further explained in blog “The Cucuà Coffee Project”)

After seeing the coffee project, we traveled back down rough terrain of San Miguel Centro to Penonomé and El Valle and eventually back to Panama City. I experienced a bit of a culture shock returning back to Panama City. Though I was not staying in the center of the city, I did find myself reminiscent of the interior with its natural beauty and terrain. However, my last two days in the city were terrific.

That Thursday was ‘Canal Day’. I learned about the infamous Panama Canal; the hardships, the revelries, and the utter unbelievable human power required to build the incredible canal. I saw the obvious United States influence with housing and neighborhood design in areas surrounding the Canal. North Americans lived in these neighborhoods when the U.S. was in control of the Canal. While at the Panama Canal museum, I was able to see first hand how a ship travels through the Miaflores Locks system. This sight amazed me; manmade power was able to lift and lower a giant ship 16 meters with water from a nearby reservoir. Hundreds of thousands of individuals died from disease while building the Canal as ownership was passed from country to country (France, The U.S. and Panama all included). Today the Canal is in full power of the Panamanian government and serves as the country’s main income.

The Panama Canal, Miaflores Locks

The Panama Canal, Miaflores Locks

The next day I met with United States Cultural Aggregates Margarita Pearce and Kathy Guiducci-Ferry at the United States Embassy in Panama. We discussed my experiences, my impressions of Panama, and my main take-aways from the program. It was a wonderful experience to meet with those in government and tell them about my work at Human Impacts Institute, Alberto’s work (Fundación Communidad), and my enriching and enlightening experience in Panama.

On my last day, Alberto and I walked up the steep roads of Ancon (a small town with in Panama City) right in the middle of an extremely humid afternoon. Ancon is a very high hill that has the most amazing views of Panama City- the old and the new parts against the Pacific Ocean. Knowing I was leaving this beautiful, complex country the next day after an amazing week- I savored every moment the view.

View of Panama City from Ancon

View of Panama City from Ancon

The next day we traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica to meet with rest of the Professional Fellows involved with the Economic Exchange Program. The Fellows, University of Connecticut and University of Peace staff associated with the program gathered for two days of workshops and sharing experiences. The workshops and classes were centered on social entrepreneurship, wealth and happiness, and non-profit success stories in Latin America. As a young professional working in community development and interested in a career in food, health, and the environment, I found the subjects of the workshops thought provoking and inspirational. It solidified my dream and passion to work with people, helping them attain a better quality of life, one step at a time. What were more inspirational than the workshops was meeting the other Fellows in the program; hearing about the other Latin American Fellow’s projects and the United States Fellow’s experiences. Each and every person’s work was unique and inspiring. Other Fellows were located in Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, and another pair in Panama. Some worked with women in Columbia who were abused and displaced, some with communities high in the mountains of Peru helping them attain more nutritional vegetable varieties, some with communities helping them create products out of their crops. All were so inspirational and motivating to me.

PanamaCityfromCauseway

I left the Professional Fellows Exchange Program and my time in Panama feeling inspired, motivated, and knowledgeable about my aim with my career and personal goals. Bringing my experiences back to Human Impacts Institute was rewarding. I brought back a new outlook on working with local communities to achieve more sustainable lifestyles for a healthier world, perfectly aligned for HII. I am proud to announce that the University of Connecticut’s Global Training and Development Institute has selected HII for the third time to participate in the exchange program again. Stay tuned to HII’s blog for more international HII experiences from HII Development Manager Tess Clark early next year!

Melanie Griffin, Outreach Coordinator

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HII Attends Grand Street Bid’s Weekend Walk!

With most of us not living in proximity to our environmental degradation, local environmental issues are often out of sight and out of mind. The Human Impacts Institute (HII) crew thus took the Grand Street Business Improvement District Block Party as an opportunity to further its goals of connecting local issues to community development, knowledge-building and social engagement.

The Grand Street Business Improvement District conducts annual “Weekend Walk” block parties, which provides an avenue for the public to congregate and enjoy their public space. Acting as a building block of HII’s North Brooklyn Estuary Exploration Series, this particular HII workshop was themed “Environmental Justice, Water, and Advocacy”.

HII Crew sets up for the Weekend Walk by Grand Street Bid!

HII Crew sets up for the Weekend Walk by Grand Street Bid!

In the lead up to the event, much of the brainstorming segment of the preparation process circled around ways to engage the public, particularly youth, to critically assess the present evidence on climate change. To translate secondary research conducted on New York City’s water and plastic bag pollution into engaging reporting, we utilized experimental tools of communication for creative messaging.

HII’s legendary ‘Climate Wheel’ captivated all parents, children, adolescents, and the elderly alike, allowing their minds to be challenged with climate and water related questions while giving them a chance to whip a fun spin around the wheel. The public is generally perceived to acknowledge information that only aligns with their own worldviews, but it was not the case for our audience. Community participants of our workshop embraced the opportunity to investigate local environmental issues through creative outlets, albeit an absence of climate change perception. The most appalling realization the Northern Brooklyn community participants had through the workshop was the perils of climate-change-induced sea level rise to New York City. Bearing the brunt of sea level rise, which has reportedly accelerated “three to four times the global average” according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists reported by National Geographic, the Northeast coast is more vulnerable than anywhere else around the globe. This piece of information generated quite the effect on our audience, and community members began to verbalize how to connect the dots even before they left our educational table.

A local family of 5 calling for a city wide bad on plastic bags!

A local family of 5 calling for a city wide bad on plastic bags!

Maximizing opportunities for an amalgamation of coalition building, creative messaging, and education, HII utilized this workshop as an avenue to start and shape community conversations on the plastic bag ban. Participants were given disquieting facts and figures about the environmental dangers of plastic bags, and were then asked why they would want to ban plastic bags. Capturing candid responses from a diverse audience, HII is spearheading a creative photo petition as part of a wider initiative and campaign towards banning plastic bags in New York City. Incorporating plastic bag education into our outreach efforts, we are providing people with tangible actions they can take, while garnering public support that can eventually and potentially be hooked into legislation. As pointed out by one of our participants who doubled as a vociferous advocate for the plastic bag ban, a handful of countries and cities, including American ones, have banned plastic bags, including Bangladesh, Mexico City, several towns in Australia, San Francisco and San Jose. Life continues in these places.

Siblings say no to plastic bags and advocate for animal well being!

Siblings say no to plastic bags and advocate for animal well being!

With environmental education in the forefront of our minds for this event, HII sought to boost the community’s capacity in preparing for our earth’s environmental challenges by building public dialogue and movement towards a cleaner and safer future, and ideally, plastic-bag-free. HII is open to collaboration in building a coalition, through expanding the coordinated photo campaign and other related initiatives. For upcoming opportunities to participate in HII events, refer to our events calendar!

By Beatrice Yeung, Environmental Leadership Intern

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Volunteer Diaries: Agathe Laure

What would you say to a business owner  leaving his or her door open, while the A/C is running? Human Impacts Institute crew says “Shut It”!

On these hot summer days in NYC, it almost seems normal to walk on Broadway in SoHo and other busy streets feeling a cold breeze blasting out of stores and businesses. Yes, it might feel refreshing, but the fact of the matter is it actually represents a huge amount of energy and financial waste. This habit of leaving doors open is now targeted by law, but the minuscule fines and control systems implemented are not a strong enough action to prevent the practice.

It is HOT in NYC in the summer but wasting energy by leaving doors open when the AC is on will only make it warmer in the future!

It is HOT in NYC in the summer but wasting energy by leaving doors open when the AC is on will only make it warmer in the future!

To raise awareness to businesses and consumers across the city, and tackle this inefficient habit, HII developed the Cool Biz program. Cool Biz is part of the 12-steps EcoPreneurs program promoting communities across the city to adopt greener practices. The program aims to link public and private incentives and retrofits with communities, and provide practical and easy ways to live and work in a more sustainable manner. Vice versa, the program works on building community movements around environmental practices, bringing them to a higher level and influencing decision-making. Cool Biz is part of these movements.

Cool Biz aims to build a coalition around this simple, but emblematic gesture, to progressively alter mentalities on how we use energy. If we think about it, Cool Biz is not just about an opened door, but really about why people don’t have the habit or thought to close it. In fact, this practice reveals a lot about our mentality with energy use. It seems that, as long as we pay up, energy is unlimited. But is it really? Is the energy coming to our buildings (produced from natural resources) really ours? Do we have the luxury to waste it or not? Maybe. Beyond such debates, HII is looking for actions- Actions that can be performed by everybody, in their everyday life to prevent wasteful habits that increase energy use.

To engage the community on this matter, HII is reaching out to local businesses, major corporations, and consumers. The HII crew has visited dozens of them, talking to owners, managers and business employees. It has actually been surprising to see how much support we have from store employees. Unfortunately, we have found, it is more difficult to reach out to business owners with the business’s decision making power. More than signatures, the HII crew has had a number of very interesting discussions. The signatures are indeed a way to build the coalition, but what is the most rewarding in these outreach sessions are the discussions we have with people.

HII Crew and volunteers engage business owners to close their doors when the AC is on and prevent energy waste! A super simple step to go green!

HII Crew and volunteers engage business owners to close their doors when the AC is on and prevent energy waste! A super simple step to go green!

Empowered by businesses signatures, HII volunteers have gone into the streets to talk to consumers, engaging them to sign the Cool Consumer Pledge in which they pledge to not enter in stores that keep their door open while the A/C is on. We all know how hard it is to get individual’s attention on the streets of New York, but the team was pretty successful and got some signatures.

In order to support the Cool Biz program HII also launched a new video campaign called “Shut It”. The team filmed volunteers to tell us what they would say to a business owner keeping its door open while using A/C. The team recorded some pretty great responses from interviewees. It was actually impressive to realize how many “Cool Biz activists” are out there, already writing and blogging about such practices, and in need for recognition.

Are you tired of feeling this cold air on your beautiful summer dress? Do you love it, but still think we would be fine without it? Are you one of these sneaky extremists closing the doors anyway when you leave a store? Whatever your reasons, join our Cool Biz coalition for greener communities !

Contact us at ecopreneurs@humanimpactsinstitute.org or sign the Cool Biz pledge here. You will be advertised as such on our Ecopreneurs webpage.

Have some free time during the summer? Fine with us! You can join us for our weekly summer outreach on Thursdays. Check out the location on our event calendar, and just show up at 2pm! After a short training, you’ll be ready to hit the street for a few hours with the HII crew and help prevent energy waste. Hope to see you there!

agatheAgathe Laure, Human Impacts Institute Environmental Services Specialist

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Re-design Your Waterfront: What Does Your Ideal River Look Like?

On Monday, July 15th, the Human Impacts Institute set up in the East River State Park on the patio right by the river to ask people a simple question; If you could re-design our waterfront, what would you change?

We brought an interactive visual that would give passers-by just that opportunity. The visual included a picture of the East River drawn on a magnetic white board and a collection of diverse magnets to stick onto the board next to the river. The magnets ranged from pictures of the new East River Waterfront Esplanade and Eco-Park in Lower Manhattan; to café’s, bike share stations, the Manhattan Greenway Initiative to the Con Edison Generating Plant, and even some international offshore water initiatives, such as Sweden’s plans for offshore windmill farms.

Despite having so much to choose from, the people who stopped by often already had a strong vision of what they wanted to see on their waterfront, and only needed to add one or two magnets to represent that vision. One woman added our magnet of a bike path, emphasizing that “we need more places to bike” and in general, greater public access to our waterfronts. She was happy to learn that the first part of the East River Waterfront Esplanade recently opened as part of a greater initiative by the city to create more public spaces at the waterfront. Children stopped by HII’s table as well, curious about our magnet of the ConEd Generating Plant, spewing smoke into the air. They asked why something like that was on our whiteboard on “ideal rivers” and  we answered that it was because the ConEd plant already exists on our river. However, that was also why we offered participants the option to take down magnets of the things they wouldn’t want on their waterfront.

Beautiful sunset over NYC's East River at East River State Park with Solar Panel peeking up into the sky!

Beautiful sunset over NYC’s East River at East River State Park with Solar Panel peeking up into the sky!

By the time we finished and started packing up to go, the sun was setting on the East River and formed an iconic image with one of the park’s solar panels standing tall as a part of the waterfront. It was so perfect I had to snap a photo before I left. Who knows, maybe we can print it onto a magnet for our next activity with the waterfront whiteboard.

For more information on upcoming events and community workshops visit HII’s website.

By Anna Poon, Human Impacts Institute Education Intern

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