2013-09-18 / Features

Dan Miner


Dan Miner has recently joined Manhattan Community Board 6 as District Manager, after working for many years as senior vice president of Long Island City Partnership, where he promoted green practices like solar energy system installations, Con Ed’s energy efficiency retrofits, and white roof painting. Miner has been involved with many volunteer environmental projects, and has served as past chair of Sierra Club NYC. He aims to expand the New York City sustainability conversation to include responding to climate change and fuel depletion as well as building resilience for future climate change impacts. He blogs at www.beyondoilnyc.org.

Nicollette Barsamian: Explain your latest project with Resilience New York. Why are you showing these films and what do you hope Long Island City residents will gain by watching them?

Dan Miner: Although rarely talked about in this election, New York City has to deal with major changes in how we use energy and deal with the environment. It took Hurricane Sandy to get many city leaders to admit that climate change is real. They’re finally talking about adapting to the coming changes in weather patterns and sea levels— and becoming more resilient to the extreme weather events and disruptions which climate change will make more frequent. Remember the increased storms, droughts and heat waves we’ve seen come from the one degree centigrade increase in average global temperature we’ve had so far. A 2012 report from the World Bank, and many other scientific studies, warns that the world is headed toward as much as four degrees centigrade of warming by 2100. If we reduce carbon emissions from oil, coal and natural gas drastically, and scale up use of renewable solar and wind power, we can avoid the worst case impacts. We have the technology, but you’ll rarely hear it discussed in the news, or by politicians. The fossil fuel industry makes incredible profits, which translates into the power to keep the public uninformed, and politicians supportive of business as usual, even if the consequences will be catastrophic.

Environmental activist, former Senior Vice President of Long Island City Partnership, and Manhattan Community Board 6 District Manager Dan Miner. Environmental activist, former Senior Vice President of Long Island City Partnership, and Manhattan Community Board 6 District Manager Dan Miner. Leading the transition to a clean energy society is not just a job for the president. It’s tough to get things done in Washington, and actually easier to make progress at the city level. This is not just a job for the next mayor, but for all New Yorkers. Many existing initiatives can build resilience, cut carbon emissions, save money and create local jobs, all at the same time. We need to implement them aggressively, but that will only happen if we raise public awareness about our environmental, energy and economic challenges, and tap into the creativity of New Yorkers. We need to get the New York City community and business groups, not just a few environmentalists, working on these issues.

NB: You’ve been raising awareness about green initiatives through your former job as senior vice president of Long Island City Partnership and now through your job on the Community Board. You have also served as chair of the Sierra Club. How does raising awareness through a Meetup group differ from raising awareness as part of your job? Are there different expectations? Does more get accomplished when it’s for work or when you’re volunteering?

DM: There are different messages for different communities. Business people understand costs, savings and investments. Energy efficiency upgrades and solar power systems for buildings are excellent investments, and that’s a message that business people and property owners appreciate. But that’s only part of the story. After Sandy, people are more willing to think about emergency preparedness for weather-related disasters. That’s another part of the story.

A big part that’s usually missed is that transition to a green energy future isn’t just a good investment, but mandatory and inevitable. The world supplies of coal, oil and natural gas are all finite, and we’re running low on the sources that are inexpensive and easy to extract. That’s why companies are increasingly using expensive, dangerous, and low-yield sources, such as fracking for gas in Upstate New York or drilling for oil miles beneath the ocean floor. Industry has exaggerated how much of those resources can be economically recovered. The U.S. doesn’t have 100 years of shale gas—it’s actually less than 20. That’s not a good long-term investment. We’re bound to see much higher prices for oil and natural gas (www.meetup.com/resiliencenyc/; and Snake Oil: How Industry’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future, by Richard Heinberg.)

Instead, we should be investing in conservation and renewable energy. After people learn the full scope of our sustainability challenges, they are more ready to explore the creative, comprehensive responses we urgently need. Right now, there are very different discussions one would have with environmental groups, civic groups and business groups. As we get more big storms and heat waves, the differences how such groups will talk about climate change and energy is likely to keep shrinking.

NB: What made you decide to start a Meetup group?

DM: Meetup.com is a great platform for organizing and getting people together. You can use it for any kind of activity or interest. I’ve been involved with environmental and community groups for a long time, and advances in software and technology keep making it easier to get stuff done. As I recognized the scope of our challenges I felt compelled to do something. I hope that helping others learn more about what’s going on will catalyze their own desire to get involved. There’s no single right answer or approach; everyone can find their own way and do what makes sense to them. Bringing people together and making community connections around these issues is bound to lead to good things.

NB: How long have you been living in Queens and how long have environmental issues been important to you? What was the first environmental issue you found yourself working on?

DM: I lived in Queens for my first seven years before my family moved Upstate, where I got started with backyard gardening and landscaping. During the 1990s I was on the board of Orange County’s environmental group. I moved back to Queens in 1999. I’ve been involved with environmental issues since college.

At Long Island City Partnership, we successfully promoted energy efficiency upgrades through Con Ed’s Green Team program. Because of our community connections, the businesses we referred to Con Ed for free energy audits were up to three times as likely to purchase the recommended upgrades as businesses contacted only by Con Ed contractors. As we documented, this demonstrates the potential power of community groups to be local marketing partners for green initiatives. Most of the time this potential is untapped, because community groups don’t have a financial incentive to actively sell their contacts on greener choices. We signed referral agreements with several solar power system installers, and promoted solar to our constituents. Two of the companies we referred put solar panels on their building roofs, earning LICP some very respectable commissions. Any New York City community group can earn income by promoting solar energy by using our model, set out in detail at www.beyondoilnyc.org/solar.html

NB: Your new job has you working in Manhattan, not Long Island City. What do you miss most about working in Long Island City?

DM: Dutch Kills Green on Queens Plaza is an amazing, unique park that I used to walk through every day.

NB: What lunch options in Long Island City do you miss most?

DM: Gotham Fresh Food on Queens Plaza South, LA Gourmet at Court Square, and the falafel truck at Queens Plaza North and 28th Street.

NB: Who are some people you think are making meaningful change in environmental practices in Queens and in the rest of New York?

DM: Many people in the Bloomberg Administration have done important work, such as the authors of the A Stronger, More Resilient New York report, released this June. The Department of Transportation, with its bicycling and open space initiatives, and the Department of Sanitation, with its expansion of recycling and food waste composting, have made big strides. The Municipal Art Society has convened conferences on resilience. Growing more of the city’s food from within New York state, and even in New York City, is incredibly important. In Queens, we can point to Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm—and everyone shopping at farmer’s markets in Queens, organized by GrowNYC. Community Environmental Center in LIC has been making multi-family residential buildings more energy efficient for many years.

NB: How has Hurricane Sandy affected our understanding of climate change?

DM: The undeniable impacts of Hurricane Sandy made climate change real and immediate for many New Yorkers. Before that, many were able to dismiss it as a theoretical discussion, something that might happen far in the future, or to people far away. That level of denial is no longer possible.

NB: What can Queens residents do to help the environment on a daily basis?

DM: Recycle. Compost. Take mass transit. Conserve energy. Get an energy efficiency retrofit for your home or building. Get a reusable bag instead of taking plastic bags. Garden if you have space, and buy stuff from a farmer’s market. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. It’s necessary for people in Queens to do all those things, but not sufficient. We have to build the political consensus for a massive shift to solar and wind power, at the city and state levels. That’s why we have to raise awareness about climate change and the urgent need to transition to a green energy society.

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