Category Archives: Environment

No one told me I needed lotion

I think Winter is one of the scariest words in English. At least, it must be based on the reactions people have when I tell them I moved here from out of state. It doesn’t really matter where I came from. After an incredulous reaction to this information and the inevitable “why?”, the follow-up questions usually involve my ability to handle Winter and snow.

I think most people in the Capital Region suffer from the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome. It does get cold here…we have a wind chill advisory tonight (-25 F !), but I don’t find it to be too much of a burden to add on an extra layer. By now, I’ve learned how to handle a pair of gloves, hat, and scarf. I’ve even gotten long underwear for those times when it’s necessary to be outside for an extended period of time. But most days, it’s not such a big deal.

Even snow, which must be the second scariest word, is fairly easy to handle. I’m just hoping it stays cold enough so we don’t have that awful slush we got to start the year. I actually find it very peaceful to shovel snow in the late evening or early morning when few people are out and the snow pack reflects the faint glow of moonlight. It’s a nice outdoor exercise.

But the one thing no one ever seems to mention with respect to Winter is the dry skin. I guess it should be obvious that extended periods of time below freezing will result in low humidity, but I struggle trying to apply enough lotion to keep my knuckles from cracking and bleeding. It certainly doesn’t help that I am constantly washing my hands throughout the day, which just washes away the lotion I actually managed to remember to apply. I guess my New Year’s Resolution should be to apply lotion every night and morning to help prevent the inevitable cracked skin. Maybe I’m just not using the right type of lotion? If I can make it through Winter without bleeding knuckles, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Here’s to a healthy-skin New Year!

Over the river and through the woods

Perhaps it’s the decades of population decline, NY’s forever wild constitutional amendment, or something else; but Schenectady benefits from close proximity to rural areas. I have already enjoyed the many fruit farms in the area this summer, and with the fantastic, extended Summer weather we’ve been having, I’ve taken to a couple of the many nature walks in the area.

Close to home is the Lisha Kill Preserve. I had never heard of it until one of my friend’s neighbors alerted him to the area. It’s also hard to spot from the road. The sign is small, and it looks like you’re pulling into a driveway; but the walk is a great respite from the city. The walk was short and very easy. It’s also well marked.

Bee Careful! Sign at Lisha Kill Preserve
Bee Careful! Sign at Lisha Kill Preserve

I can’t wait to go back in a week or two when the many maple trees turn colors. The walk doesn’t have much of a view, but you do get to see Lisha Kill and escape the rush of daily life. I did get to see a snake. It’s in the picture below. Can you find it?

Can you see the snake?
Can you see the snake?

I saw a much better view at Moreau Lake State Park. It was a little early to see much Fall color, but the view was great, regardless.

A view of Moreau Lake
A view of Moreau Lake
Moreau Lake from the top
Moreau Lake from the top

The walk I took was short and steep, but you could take advantage of many miles of trails around the park. I didn’t get a chance to see it, but apparently, the views of the Hudson are good, too.

Unlike other areas of the country where sprawl has replaced nature, by living in Schenectady I have easy access to both urban activities (Broadway plays, good restaurants, street festivals) and rural ones (farms, hikes, kayaking). As the area turns around from its half century slump, I hope urban sprawl can be minimized so I can continue to enjoy both easily; but that will require region-wide coordination. I have yet to see any efforts at long term regional planning. I hope that changes.

The Perfect Summer Job

This post is part of a series exploring the workers I’ve met who are on the front lines of the fracing boom in Pennsylvania. You can find links to the other articles on the overview page.

If I had to guess someone in the class was going to be from Texas, I would have guessed it would be James. He walked into the class wearing  cowboy boots and a large belt buckle touting the wonders of Jack Daniels. He drove a 1985 Ford pickup that he unashamedly touted as being impermeable to the impending rain because of its complete lack of electronics.

To James, this job as a welder’s assistant (a job he described as “doing whatever the welder wants me to do.”) was a fantastic opportunity for the next 6 months. He was notified of his need to attend the class just the day prior when “a Mexican” failed to show up for work. But it was also great pay for his level of education.

At 19, James was the youngest person there. He had joined the Marine Reserve, following in the path of his older brother, and needed to find a job for when he wasn’t actively deployed. With just a high school degree, his job paid $14/h, which meant his job paid more in 2 weeks than his girlfriend’s did all summer. This sort of opportunity reminds me of the stories people tell of being able to find a decent job with just a high school education back in the 60s before the onset of globalization. Plus, with appropriate additional training, he could be highly recruited for other jobs in the region.

When I compare James’ experience with that of Danny’s, it reminds me of the disruptive innovation popularized by Clayton Christensen, but applied to labor. Have we entered a world in which college represents an over education of the labor force when what we really need are skilled trades? How much longer can we afford for the nation’s youth to take on significant debt without the opportunity to pay it back?

What each of the stories in this series represent are people trying to make it as best they can. It’s easy to think of the shale gas revolution in environmental terms, primarily because most of the news stories focus on that, but it also affects many other aspects of our society. By providing jobs to people with little training, others like James and Jason can earn a living; but the people working on these well sites also represent people like Danny, who have been let down by the larger American economy and fall back on the decent salary despite their training in other areas…much in the same way that a barista at Starbucks or waiter at your local restaurant may have a college degree. The environmental impacts also need to be accounted for, absolutely, and the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive; but the environment must be balanced with the many other positive benefits to society. What other industry shows so much promise and opportunity for such a large swath of the american public?

Profiles in fracking

The issue of fracing (or fracking) seems to frequently arise in NY State politics. This is largely due to the indefinite moratorium that could be lifted at any time. I am not going to expand on the pros and cons of fracing here, but I do want to share the stories of 3 new employees for oil and gas companies that are fracing, or supporting fracing, operations in Pennsylvania.

I had the opportunity to meet them last week during a safety course, and I plan over the next several days to provide a look at each person’s relationship with the fracing industry that is causing so much controversy.

The three gentlemen are:

1) The migrant worker

2) The disillusioned college grad

3) The high school success

Each has a different story that helps me to understand a little better a topic that is largely covered through the environmental/safety angle. I will link to each story from this page when they are published.

Smoking near an open window

One of the first things I noticed after moving to Schenectady was the prevalence of smokers. It seemed that everywhere I went someone was smoking. Even my current neighbors smoke. In the Summer, the whiff of cigarettes comes in through my windows.

I especially noticed this because I moved from a place that restricted smoking almost everywhere (California). No smoking restrictions existed at bus stops, in front of businesses, in any commercial zone, and near any medical center. Parks were also restricted, but it seemed that only the tobacco smoking ban was actually enforced, but not other forms of smoking.

My initial impressions were confirmed when the results of the UMatter survey were released showing that more than 37% of Schenectady residents were current smokers. This compares with a national average of 18.1% according to the CDC. Once might think the high rates of smoking correlate with Schenectady’s relatively high rate of poverty, but the breakdown at the CDC suggests it may be more closely related to the education level of the community (9.1% smoking rate for a person with a college diploma vs. almost 42% for a person with a GED).

Even the very high tax rate on cigarettes in NY has not seemed to deter Schenectady residents from smoking.

So what can be done about the high rate of smoking? Many health professionals are working on this issue, and I don’t have much more to add. But one easy switch that can reduce the negative impact of smoking on others would be to promote the use of E-cigarettes, or vapes, instead. If my neighbors all used E-cigarettes instead of regular ones, I wouldn’t have to frequently inhale second-hand smoke, and we may be able to avoid one of these sticky situations.

Yet states and the Federal government are starting to restrict their sales. That is a shame.

Stop idling…it’s time to raise the gas tax

I am constantly amazed at the number of people in the Capital Region who leave their cars idling while they walk into Stewarts, the bank, or some other place. I see these cars year round, not just in the dead of winter when one could possibly (but not really) justify leaving the heat on with no one in the car.

Perhaps people do this in other areas of the country I’ve lived, but to me, it seems that it’s no where to the extent that I encounter an idling car here. Not only is it a waste of money, but it’s bad for the environment. It seems ridiculous to pass a law prohibiting idling, although it’s currently in the works, since it will be difficult to enforce and there’s an exemption for remote starters. It’s not clear from the proposed bill for how long a remote start exemption would apply, either.

It’d be far better to raise the gas tax, which will strongly discourage wasting precious fuel without the need for another law that’s difficult to enforce while encouraging the use of public transportation, walking, biking, and other activities that will promote sustainable living. Not to mention that it will provide a sustainable revenue stream to fix the transportation budget, unlike the accounting tricks currently being employed in Washington.

The negative impact to low income individuals can be mitigated through direct money transfers based on income while still discouraging idling and other fuel consumption. How can we not support a policy that will reduce pollution, promote public transportation networks, and fully fund our transportation infrastructure needs without the costs of additional enforcement?