Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

Issue #57: March-April 2020

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Welcome to the March-April 2020 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an e-update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by longyoung licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the Town of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy . Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of the Sustainable Markets Foundation.
We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy. 
What Can the Coronavirus Crisis Teach Us About Climate Change?
by Guillermo Metz and Anne Rhodes, Tompkins Weekly

The following article is a slightly revised version of the piece that appeared originally in the April 1 issue of Tompkins Weekly, part of the Signs of Sustainablity servies, so it reflects the authors' perspective at that time.

Collectively, by and large, we're responding appropriately to the coronavirus crisis. Even if it may have taken a bit too long to do so, we're getting there. We all understand that's for the greater good, even if many of us, individually, have little to fear from the coronavirus. We understand that if we don't stop the spread, we are putting millions of others at serious risk.

As difficult as it may be, some of us can transition to working from home. But millions can't, and for those, our government is looking at ways to help support them financially so they can keep buying food and paying basic bills when they're not able to draw a paycheck.

Grocery shopping during the coronavirus crisis. Photo by Ronnie Pitman licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
There are wide varieties of ways people react and respond to a crisis. Partly it depends on how close the crisis is to us -- nearby or far away, right now or in the future,  affecting me personally and people I know or only affecting strangers.

As the coronavirus has moved closer to us geographically and the threat to our immediate communities has become evident, we have seen our response ramping up. But we also saw a lag in serious preparation because it started out far away.

The impacts of the climate crisis are similarly playing out far away from Tompkins County, and the danger to us personally may seem far into the future. This is one of many reasons we are having a difficult time ramping up our response to the climate crisis, even though we have the information about what could mitigate the impact.

But we know we can act collectively to reduce the impacts of climate change. Some of us have the ability to immediately transition off fossil fuels, and for others, it will be a slower process, for example, because you have a brand new gas-fired boiler or simply can't afford to upgrade your system right now.

Similar to coronavirus, we know there are vulnerable populations right here in our community who we need to support, both in helping them make the necessary transitions and also in reducing the impacts of an already changing climate that's only going to get worse before it can get better.

We'll get through the coronavirus. We're starting to understand that how we act now will determine how many people will suffer before we get to the other side. It's the same thing with climate change. We need to act now, even though most of us haven't been directly and drastically affected yet.

So, what lessons are to be learned? Neither of the two serious crises talked about here are short-term. The threat of the coronavirus will be with us for many months, and the climate crisis will be with us for many, many years.

A tornado, on the other hand, is a finite event, and when it's over, people predictably mobilize to help each other, share what is needed, offer comfort and support, and generally think "not me, us." Then, after a short while, things go back to normal.

Estimates now are that things will not go back to normal from the coronavirus for at least 18 months. And when we do get herd immunity and/or a vaccine, "normal" will be different --socially, economically, medically, and in other ways.

Eighteen months may be enough time for us to develop new habits -- habits of mind and habits of functioning. Research shows that it takes about three months for an individual to consciously change a habit. How long will it take for a society to change a habit? Eighteen months?
If it is true that we will change some habits over the duration of the coronavirus outbreak, then what we are seeing now provides some good lessons.

Guillermo Metz and Anne Rhodes are energy educators with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. 
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, April 24, 2020
9 to 11 am
Due to the current pandemic, the monthly TCCPI meetings have moved online. Contact Peter Bardaglio, the TCCPI coordinator, for further details at

Ithaca 2030 District Releases 2019 Progress Report
by Peter Bardaglio, Ithaca 2030 District

The Ithaca 2030 District, the flagship program of TCCPI, released its 2019 Progress Report last month. Part of a broader 2030 District Network involving 22 cities in the U.S. and Canada, the Ithaca 2030 District is a voluntary effort on the part of property owners and managers in Downtown Ithaca to meet ambitious energy and water use reduction goals as well as to bring about cuts in district-wide transportation emissions goals.

Buildings make up 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Ithaca, so achieving the city-wide goal of carbon neutrality by 2030 depends in great measure on dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings.

Currently, the Ithaca 2030 District consists of 26 buildings adding up to 329,225 square feet. With the permission of the property owners, we collect monthly consumption and performance data for energy and water. We also conduct an annual transportation survey to determine emissions for the District. The data from the member buildings from the previous calendar year is aggregated and compared to the District baselines.

Besides this annual district-level report, each of the property owners and managers is provided access to a confidential dashboard that measures the performance of their individual buildings.

The Ithaca 2030 District builds on TCCPI model, p roviding a   non-competitive, collaborative environment built on trust and mutual respect. It is the m ain vehicle deployed by TCCPI to build support in the local business community for reducing GHG emissions and increasing the energy and water efficiency of their buildings. Quarterly meetings of the District Partners provide members with the opportunity to share best practices and discuss common challenges in improving building performance.

Check out the report  here for details about the progress of the Ithaca 2030 District, as well as its growth and impact. Also be sure to see our new District dashboard  here.

Energy Audits: The First Step to Savings
by Phil Cherry,  Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

An energy audit is not like an IRS audit! It's nothing to be afraid of, and in fact it may actually save you money. An energy audit is also often called an "energy assessment" -- because it assesses the energy efficiency of your home and identifies areas where your house is leaking heat on cold days -- or cool air on summer days, or maybe wasting electricity on outdated lighting or older refrigeration equipment.

Audits are done by professional contractors trained by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to conduct such studies. There are other certifications and rating systems for homes and raters, but the BPI certificate is likely the most common. There are multiple companies here in the Finger Lakes and elsewhere in upstate New York that conduct energy audits. Audits are usually performed by Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) companies or home performance/insulation companies in advance of furnace replacemen ts and home improvement 
The blower door test is a key part of any home energy audit. Photo by Ryan McFarland licensed under CC BY 2.0.
projects or to simply find out where your home is leaking energy... and money. 

The idea is to save money on heating and cooling costs and to make your home as efficient as possible so you can "right-size" your new furnace, solar array, or heat pump for maximum return on your investment. It doesn't make sense buying a 100,000 BTU furnace to heat a leaky house when a 75,000 BTU would work perfectly well in a better insulated and sealed home.

Audits may consist of a health and safety inspection, a blower doo r analysis, a lighting assessment, insulation assessment and some general energy education. Audits can take about 2-3 hours depending on the services provided and the size and complexity of the home. The health and safety part of the audit is critical and can locate leaks in your home's furnace or water heater exhaust systems and improper or missing smoke or CO2 detectors. The electrical or insulation inspections look for ways to reduce electric demand through lighting or appliances and where insulation might be needed in the attic or walls of a home. After the audit is complete, customers are usually provided a report that outlines the main findings and where improvements are needed. The audit usually will also include an estimates for energy savings for each measure recommended.

Audits can also unlock incentive programs -- rebates and financing to help pay for the improvements. For low and moderate income households, these incentives may cover some or all of the costs of the work, including sealing air leaks, installing insulation, and in some cases replacing water heaters or upgrading to efficient heating systems like heat pumps.

Audits can cost between $150 and $500; however, across New York State, audits are free for all homeowners , regardless of income or electricity supplier. Renters can work with their landlords to access audits as well. That's because NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, has programs in place to pay auditors the cost of providing the service, so New Yorkers will become more energy efficient and we can forestall the need to build new power plants, transmission systems, or gas pipelines to heat and  cool our homes. It's in the public's interest to save energy, both from an economic as well as environmental perspective, which is why NYSERDA does what it does.

There are energy programs for almost every situation -- homeowner, renter, low, moderate or higher income -- all of which start with an audit. Some of these have been around for decades. Others are new. You can learn about these programs on Cooperative Extension's Smart Energy Choices website (, where you can also find contact information for our area's Community Energy Advisors (like me!). We can help you find local contractors and share possible incentives for your particular situation. All our Community Energy Advisors offer trusted, impartial, fact-based advising for free!

In summary, getting an energy audit is free and easy. It can lead to savings on your heating, cooling or electricity bills or even save you from unknown or hazardous health and safety situations. It's a phone call or internet search away and, who knows, it may save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Phil Cherry is the Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County, and also serves as Community Energy Advisor for Schuyler & Steuben Counties.




Take a step to save money and energy!








One Last Thing: Covid-19, Species Collapse, and the Climate Emergency

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic comes word that the collapse of thousands of wildlife species sparked by the climate crisis could take place as early as the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not dramatically reduced. Just as unsettling: this collapse wouldn't happen in a long, slow slide, but rather would be far more abrupt than previously thought.

As Alex Pigot, a scientist at University College London and co-author, told a New York Times reporter, "For a long time things can seem OK and then suddenly they're not. Then, it's too late to do anything about it because you've already fallen over this cliff edge."

Recent coral bleaching events suggest that ecosystem collapse in tropical oceans may already be underway. Photo by ARC Centre of Excellence licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
The study, published in Nature earlier this month, examined more than 30,000 species on land and in water to determine when climate change would dramatically reduce population levels and what the pace of those changes would be. The scientists identified the hottest temperature that a species is known to have survived and then projected when that temperature would be reached under different emissions scenarios.

The bad news? Abrupt collapse of tropical ocean ecosystems could begin "before 2030" and "spread to tropical forests and higher latitudes by 2050" at the current rate of emissions. On the other hand, if global warming stays below 2 degrees C, the number of species endangered would decline by 60 percent and the number of ecosystems exposed to catastrophic collapse would be limited to less than 2 percent.

The benefits of what one of the researchers called "early and rapid action" on limiting greenhouse gas emissions could hardly be clearer. The extinction of vast swaths of species upon which human survival depends would be avoided, although many people and species would still be vulnerable.

If you see a parallel here to the coronavirus crisis, you're not alone. Early and rapid action, where it has taken place, has saved thousands of lives. But in those parts of the world that waited too long, once the infections took hold and multiplied  exponentially, it was too late and disaster ensued.

So what will it be? Do we take the necessary steps now and prevent the collapse of the ecosystems that keep us alive or do we continue to avoid making the hard decisions and fall off the cliff edge? It's a stark and unavoidable choice. The one positive thing that could come from the current pandemic, an event that has taken nearly 165,000 lives so far and inflicted widespread economic suffering, would be the wisdom sufficient to make the right choice about the future of our planet.

Peter Bardaglio
TCCPI Coordinator


Be sure to visit the website for TCCPI's latest project, the Ithaca 2030 District, an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration working to create a groundbreaking high-performance building district in Downtown Ithaca.