A Crack In Fracking

There’s a refrain from an old Leonard Cohen song, "Anthem" that goes like this:

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.”

We can only postulate what Cohen was writing about in the ’60, but right now, cracks are ringing warning bells in the fight against hydraulic gas fracking.

Frack New York?

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of fracking, as I believe many of my Econesting friends are well-versed on the subject (you can read my post from last year, and this comprehensive natural gas Q&A). I also leave that to my environmental planner husband, Ted. He's working with municipalities up and down the Marcellus Shale helping citizens protect their environmental destinies, rather than accept a poisonous fate that has already inflicted so many people. (If you have any questions about fracking, please leave a comment below--he's happy to answer.)

Because of “cracks” from gas companies and politicians, fracking has crept dangerously close to my beloved home state of New York. Gov. Cuomo will soon make a final decision regarding shale gas fracturing in the Southern Tier of NY State

3 Reasons Not To Frack The Southern Tier of NY

1. This area houses bountiful and clean groundwater. The possibility that a precious water supply will be irreparably harmed seems senseless.

2. This area is more impoverished than other parts of NY, bringing rightful cries of environmental justice:

“Sending a polluting industry into our most economically impoverished communities is a violation of environmental justice…Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea...The pregnant mother who drinks unfiltered water from a rural well in the Susquehanna River Valley has the same right to environmental protection as the mother in Manhattan who drinks unfiltered water brought to her from the off-limits New York City watershed” ~ Sandra Steingraber, New Yorkers Against Fracking

3. We are hearing very little from our political leaders about clean alternative energy sources as viable options.

“The Governor promised to be ‘guided by science’ when it came to fracking. He has not kept his promises. Instead, he put a climate denier in charge of overseeing the environmental review process for fracking…Introducing new oil and gas drilling into New York will keep us dangerously addicted to fossil fuels as the world warms, and leave a toxic legacy in the Southern Tier counties that most need an economic revival led by green industry.” ~ Phil Aroneanu, 350.org

Mother Love and Loss

As someone who helps lead a powerful group of parents, the Moms Clean Air Force, I’ve come to understand the importance of everyday people working alongside large organizations, and even celebrities, in the fight for our children’s future. I've also lived with artists my whole life, and I know that the natural environment is a source of constant inspiration worth fighting for.

The matter of love and loss is something parents know all too well, and I believe frack activists may have found the crack that lets in the light with two artist celebs who know a thing or two about love and loss, Yoko and Sean:


Didn't that crack you up?

Please join Artists Against Fracking. And while you’re at it, if you haven’t already joined Moms Clean Air Force, you can do so right here. Thank you.

Main image: New Yorkers Against Fracking

Clean Air Design: 5 Cool Picks

Can clean air design change the world? Like most artists, designers create objects for our families that reflect social and environmental issues and trends. To solve a health and environmental problem such as air pollution, designers are doing their part in creating homes, clothing, cars and communities that address the crisis.

The Moms Clean Air Force has been chronicling the hazardous connection between where people live and the environmental factors that expose children to pollutants that cause significant health risks, such as lung disease, asthma, lead poisoning, cancer, reproductive impacts, birth defects, and even heart attacks. Air and water are the primary conveyances of pollutants and toxins, but exposure can also occur through contaminated soil during the fracking process.

“Good air quality is key to promoting respiratory health...The main sources of air pollution are area sources (dry cleaners, lawn mowers, etc.), mobile sources (cars, trucks, off-road equipment), and stationary sources (factories, power plants, etc.). These different sources produce different types of pollutants that can cause problems for respiratory health, cardiovascular health, and cancer treatment. Locating sensitive land uses in close proximity to polluting facilities or major roadways can raise health concerns for sensitive populations. Some pollutants tend to have a greater effect over an entire metropolitan area and others drop off fairly quickly away from the source.” ~ Design For Health

5 Clean Air Designs

1. Car Removes 95% of Ozone Toyota has developed a material that can remove 95% of unreacted ozone or ground-level air pollutants from the air when used in an ozone filter. What does this mean? The future car you drive could clean the air instead of polluting it. Read more about this at Inhabitat.

2. Breathing Walls Plants have the ability to do more than just bring a hint of nature into your home. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the photosynthetic process. Researchers found many common houseplants absorb benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and other pollutants. Plants can improve indoor air quality. DIRTT Environmental Solutions created the Breathe Living Wall system for health and energy-savings. The wall lessens the load of ventilation systems, and introduces more healthful plants into living spaces. Read more about this at Top 10 Green Building Products.

3. Clean Air Communities Smart Growth designers and planners are designing communities that include plans for driving less. “With over nine million children in the U.S. suffering from asthma and millions more Americans who die each year due to high levels of air pollution, designing communities in ways that reduce traffic and encourage healthy options like walking and bicycling are crucial.” Read more about this at Smart Growth: Healthy Communities, Healthy People.

4. Buildings Eat Smog Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of America's energy use. Much of this energy comes from coal-fired plants and other dirty sources. Alcoa created EcoClean building panels with a titanium dioxide coating that interacts with sunlight and breaks down nitrogen oxide - the smog-causing compound. The process happens naturally when rain washes off a building. Alcoa claims that 10,000 square feet of coated aluminum would have the air-cleaning effects of 80 trees. Read more about this at Good.

5. Catalytic Clothes Purify Polluted Air OK, this one is my favorite. Catalytic Clothing has created a dress that can purify polluted air through a chemical reaction on the surface of the fabric. They claim the dress can reverse the environmental impact of air pollution!

“Exposure to airborne pollutants presents a risk to human health and also has a detrimental effect on ecosystems and vegetation…The widespread introduction of Catalytic Clothing would dramatically reduce the level of airborne pollutants, thereby improving the quality of life for all members of society.”

Check out this video featuring a model wearing an air purifying dress - background track by Radiohead. Read more about this at The Ecologist.


Can “design thinking” imbue a wide spectrum of solutions to help in the air pollution crusade? You bet. Good clean air design can change the world! Want to join designers as they connect the dots between design, the environment and our health? The Moms Clean Air Force is an innovative community of parents devoted to finding creative solutions to keep our children breathing the clean air they deserve. Please help us design a future for our children free of pollution. Thank you!

Credit: Ben Scott

Renewable Energy: Table Talk With T and Me

Dinnertime is always a savory affair in my nest. My husband, Ted is truly an outstanding cook. His food is seasoned to perfection, served in an appealing manner, and absolutely scrumptious. Savory in all the best ways. Ted's meals set the tone for family dinnertime dynamics that follow suit. After reading Laurie David’s inspiring, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book, The Family Dinner, I felt validated that we have embraced a ritual that helped raise our amazing kids. That’s why I’m dishing up some insight into my family’s eco-driven conversations.

As Laurie says in her book…“Dinner Spreads Love”

From the time my kids were old enough to cease throwing Fruitios from highchairs, we engaged them in all types of dinnertime banter. The topics were age appropriate, but like other couples that work in similar professions, we get caught up in what our kids affectionately call our “stuff.” Ted is an environmental planner, and I’m an environmental writer. We’re almost always on the same page – it’s the approach that sometimes gets us in trouble.

Ted passionately looks at the big picture and long-term consequences. I passionately focus on day-to-day green actions. He puts together documents that are big enough to sit on. I write snippets for blogs that you could tuck into your pocket.

What’s eating us?

Before I invite you to join us around the table, let me disclose some marital insight: I think Ted is a tad long-winded (I’m being nice here). If you asked him, he would probably say I oversimplify the issues. I must also mention again, that my nest is mostly empty, which leaves Ted and I sharing our dinner (and wine) without kid meditation to reign us in.

(My kids are eye-rolling and nodding their heads in agreement.)

Table Talk

It was excessively hot in the Northeast last week, and Ted announced Sunday that he was not cooking…

Ted: We’ll eat whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market.

Ronnie: OK, I’m cool with – fiddleheads, ramps, shitakes, arugula, sugar snaps, garlic scapes, and whatever else the kids wouldn’t have eaten. (See, empty nests are not as bad as they are cracked up to be.)

The mere mention of not lighting up the gas stove brings out the eco-geekiness in me and I drop an energy issue bomb…

R: What happened to renewable energy? I thought solar, wind, and geothermal were going to make a clean sweep over the power companies and offer homeowners real energy solutions for the future. Was that just a fantasy?

T: If we don’t kick our fossil fuel habit, our children will pay the price of our excess. Diminishing oil reserves and worldwide demand will price us out of the market, and climate change will force some out of their homes. There may be 30 to 50 years of oil left, and loads of coal, but burning 100,000 years of “buried sunshine” each year has created an imbalance in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the main cause of global warming. Lest not forget, natural gas that needs to be extracted by fracking - that is known to contaminate wells and pollute the air. The sun is estimated to continue to shine for at least 5 billion more years. This is the time to harness the sun and capture the wind. It’s even getting more affordable. We should behave responsibly to our kids and keep exploring alternatives.

R: Doesn’t the world already employ renewable energy practices?

T: Right now only about 13% of the world's energy is renewable.

How does he always have those statistics right at his fingertips? Here comes my best shot...

R: I read in Treehugger (beloved blog) that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world can get 80% of its power from renewable sources by 2050. The report claims that if a "full range of renewable technologies were deployed," we could attain this truly clean power goal in under 40 years. Wow, this sounds responsible, right?

T: Yeah, I read that too. The Rocky Mountain Institute goes even further. They say that it would be profitable to displace oil completely over the next few decades. By 2025, the annual economic benefit of that displacement would be $130 billion. Investing now in renewable energy can also help poor countries develop, particularly where large numbers of people lack access to an electricity grid.

R: Just think of what an awesome deal clean energy production would be in terms of health benefits and economic savings. Power the world…Save the poor...Clean air for all!

T: Not so fast. There's a minor glitch: our elected public officials have to enact policies that promote green power…and people need to be given the tools to adopt it. The US is the world's biggest energy consumer, and our politicians are not on the same page. Go tell your Moms Clean Air Force that while they are asking their congressmen to clean up the air, to also tell their local elected officials they can do more. I work with non-partisan planning boards. New development should be subject to smart growth principles. Even while that’s happening, conservation pays. Energy-efficiency is still the cheapest form of energy available today. It is a prerequisite to investing in renewables. Before we can even envision a world powered by wind and sun, we’ve got to remember that conservation and reducing consumption across the board should be our first priority.

R: So glad I share these savory dinner conversations with you. Happy Father’s Day, Ted…and thanks for joining the Moms Clean Air Force.

Signs Of The Times

Sometimes I feel like I grew up on the ledge – a ledge that was propelled into action by the signs of the times. With the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Women's Movement simmering to a boiling point. It was ALL personal. It was ALL political.


In many ways, I stopped jumping off ledges when I had kids. I’m still easily riled up, but politics moved to the back burner. The choices changed from demanding equal pay and peace on earth, to whether or not to use cloth diapers, and what school to send the kids to. Believe me, there were many worthy ledges to jump off of, but most were personal – kids, jobs, house. Politically, the most ledgework I could muster up was to rant to my family and vote with my conscience.

My 20-something year old children are also ledge-leaning. If I'm willing to drink a little beer and hum along with the guitar into the wee morning hours, I can engage them in a lively discussion about eco-energy issues like, dirty coal, fracking, mercury testing, and voting to keep the Clean Air Act from being rendered impotent.

Signs Of The Times

"Yes, yes, mom – We'll vote!" They will, but they are worried about another "eco" –  a sign of their times. Their minds are filled with the economics of finding and securing jobs. So many recent college graduates are buried under this weight.

Growing up in the '60’s and '70's, we jumped off ledges. The work got done. Attitudes changed. The results were fair and everlasting, or so we thought...


Most people were so outraged by prejudice and segregation that laws got changed. Currently, on the clean air front, more non-white children live with the highest concentrations of air pollution. 60% of Latino children are more likely to suffer from asthma and other environmental illnesses…and three times as likely to die of asthma? How fair is that?

Most people were so outraged about the inequality of women that laws got changed. I couldn't be more elated that women are in the political arena. We fought hard for political equality, but not all female politicians have their priorities straight. Just last week, Sarah Palin proudly announced to a group of veterans and TV cameras, “I love that smell of the emissions.” It is unfathomable to me that a mom of 5 could debunk the scientific knowledge that greenhouse gas emissions have increased by a record amount last year, leaving us with the highest carbon output in history. How fair is that?

Most people were so outraged about an unjust war that they ended it. Now our wars are based on energy politics. Some politicians, backed by energy corporations have much to lose and little to gain from leading us into a truly clean energy revolution. Instead of looking to, and legislating for squeaky clean renewable energy, some politicians are putting the Clean Air Act on the chopping block to protect their "assets." How fair is that?


Our kids are teeter-tottering on a dangerous ledge. Are you ready to do a little ledgework for your kids and help keep the air clean for our kids to breathe? Those of you with young children will have to jump off the ledge for them. Those of us with older children will need to give them a hefty nudge because their generation is rightfully distracted. Here’s what you can do to help save the Clean Air Act.

It will be a sign of “good” times when our kids thank us by texting, “Hey Mom - Peace, Love and Clean Air.”

Photo credit: Ted Fink  Drawing: Liza Donnelly

Freaked About Fracking

"Hey, how you doin' I just came by to say hello I work for the gas company I just happened to be in the neighborhood, you know but I was thinkin, you must be tired of workin' that rake and that hoe I could make you lots more money than those potatoes" ~ No Fracking Way, Marc Black

While traveling to visit my children in Boston a few weeks ago, I listened to a radio interview with Marc Black. He sang No Fracking Way, which tells the story of farmers who are approached by gas companies to drill on their land.

What Is Fracking?

Hydro-fracturing or fracking is a method of gas extraction where water, sand and highly toxic chemicals are injected deep into the earth at high pressure to fracture rock formations and release natural gas. Once the gas is liberated, it comes to the surface and can be used as a source of energy.

Fracking Comes Home

Fracking has been kicking up its dirty heels in the Northeast, particularly along the Marcellus Shale region of New York and Pennsylvania. I’ve been a New Yorker my whole life, so when I discovered New York ranks as the highest state in HAP (Hazardous Air Pollution), it was daunting to me to learn gas companies are using persuasive practices to pad their pocketbooks and advance an agenda to pollute the land, water and air…all in the name of “cleaner” energy.

This stuff drives me crazy if I don’t learn more. So I contacted singer Marc Black. When we met, he made it perfectly clear that while the problem of fracking is complicated, the premise is simple. He explains...

“There’s nothing political about a poisoned well and breathing polluted air. Energy companies with the backing of some politicians are clamoring to drill. They laud natural gas as a source of jobs and a “cleaner” solution to our dependence on foreign oil. What they neglect to tell people is that their wells, land and air become polluted”

To Frack Or Not To Frack?

Natural gas production has been linked to emissions of benzene, formaldehyde, carbon disulfide, ethane, toluene and xylene. Even short-term exposure to these compounds may produce nausea, dizziness, and respiratory problems, and long-term exposure may be linked to brain tumors, leukemia, and breast cancer. If that doesn't freak the fracking daylights out of you, maybe this will:

3 More Reasons Why Fracking Is A Problem:

  1. Vast amounts of water are required. Since fracking disrupts fault lines, the process is feared to cause earthquakes.
  2. Fracking has never gone through an independent federal environmental impact assessment and is not subject to federal regulations.
  3. While the natural gas industry should be required to abide by the same regulations as any other energy producing industry, the fracking process is mostly unregulated due to numerous exemptions in federal laws.

3 Things We Can Do:

  1. Ask for a full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process (some states already are beginning to require disclosure).
  2. Tell the politicians that we do not support spending hundreds of millions of dollars to gut the Clean Air Act and weaken the EPA's ability to reduce dangerous pollution.
  3. Advocate for “real” clean renewable energy, like solar and wind.

“So when the man comes up to you and he says I wanna give you all this money to poison your land What will you say, huh?” ~ Marc Black

Photo: Ben Scott for Bluerock Design