According to a recently released UN report, the ozone layer is recovering from being depleted, first noted in the late 1970s and at its worst in the late 1990s.

Since then, with greatly reduced use of aerosol sprays and coolants containing man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the ozone layer has been recovering at between 1-3% annually.

While progress has been made and we have more to look forward to, we won’t be doing a victory dance for a totally restored ozone layer until well past the mid-century mark at about the year 2060, which is where your grandkids come in.

Starting at about six miles above earth and continuing for another 25 miles, the ozone layer protects Earth from UV rays that cause skin cancer, have been linked to causing cataracts, negatively affects plant development, the early growth of marine life such as fish, shrimp, crabs and more that reverberates down the marine food chain, and biogeochemical cycles such as those from greenhouse gasses.

Were it not for the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which phased out CFCs, we would be looking at a very different scenario – the destruction of two-thirds of the ozone layer.

But, there is one great unknown. Ozone depletion is a double-edged environmental sword. The ozone layer is one part; the other is the ozone hole, which is the amount of ozone in the stratosphere around our polar regions. It seems the depleted ozone hole (which peaks in the fall months; is gone in December; and returns in spring) has shielded Antarctica from the greater effects of global warming.

Scientists don’t know how the polar regions will fare with restored full ozone, especially in light of the many initiatives to halt and repair global warming, but they do know what a depleted ozone layer would do the Earth.

We should know what to expect fairly soon or, most certainly, by 2060.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Inspirational speaker and one of the world’s greatest explorers, Robert Swan

You can be that “someone else” by supporting ocean pollution clean-up groups. Here’s one we particularly like. Founded by two surfers who saw the effects of pollution in Bali, 4ocean enlists sea captains, their ships and volunteers to remove trash from coastlines and oceans – one pound at a time. You can get that one pound pulled by purchasing one of their recycled bracelets which is how they finance their efforts. There’s even a special Earth Day edition. https://4ocean.com

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Recently, the Discovery Channel went fearlessly into its annual Shark Week. This year’s line-up included a one hour show: “Sharks and The City: New York”, narrated by none other than Chris Noth, Mr. Big from Sex and the City. There was also a special appearance by singer Seal who becomes a shark snack. (You can’t make these things up.)

Levity and puns aside, there is real scientific news which is also great environmental news about great white sharks returning to New York City waters. Are they here yet? No, at least not in the harbor. But there is hope as well as belief that they will be. The signs are all there.

Forget “Jaws”, the seminal movie that scared the hell out of an entire generation. The return of great white sharks to our area after more than three centuries is great news. It means cleaner water and that ecological balance is once more being achieved.

We understand that that the thought of swimming with sharks evokes a primordial fear. But great whites get a bad rap. For one thing, they are far from the vicious, man-eating killers people think they are. Yes, they’re predators but most people survive being bitten by a great white, which probably happened because they mistook a human for their natural prey. True, their size can inflict great damage with only one big “test” bite from 300 or so sharp teeth. But, they are far from being as aggressive as bull and tiger sharks. Overall, a person is much more likely to die from a wasp or bee bite or being struck by lightning than from a shark attack.

Great whites are naturally curious. If they see something, they taste it to see if it’s to their liking. Great white bites of boats, buoys and surfboards attest to the one bite and nope, not tasty, conclusion. Humans fall into that category. To a great white, we are way too bony, unlike their favorite prey – plump seals with a thick layer of fat.

Which brings us to more good news in the ecological circle. Where there are seals, great white sharks are usually not far behind. Ravaged by hunting, pollution and habitat changes, for the first time in over 200 hundred years, harbor seals are back in New York. They are primarily congregating on rocky, man-made Swinburne Island off the coast of Brooklyn, near the Verrazano Bridge.

For now, no great whites have been tracked to New York harbor. Marine biologist Craig O’ Connell has been tracking and tagging sharks around New York’s waters for a decade. He has found a shark nursery of 9 tagged juveniles out at Montauk. And let’s not forget the famous great white, Mary Lee (who has her own faithful following and Twitter page) who has been known to enjoy summering around the Jersey Shore and East Hampton.

Time will tell whether great whites will become abundant in New York City’s waters. It they do, it will be good news as the sharks are important to the ocean’s ecology. The exception would be the re-appearance of the megalodon (you saw an approximation of this huge species in Jurassic World) which would make great whites run for cover. (And, yes, you’d need a bigger boat.)

We’d be remiss not to at least reference “Sharknado 2: The Second One’ because it takes place in New York City. As our hero Fin Shepherd says, “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. They’re sharks. They’re scary…I’m here to tell you it takes a lot more to bring a good man down. A lot more than that to bring a New Yorker down.”

Yep. You can’t make these things up.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

There are house cats, stray cats, cartoon cats, historic cats, film cats and famous cats, but we don’t hear much about working cats, at least since ancient days when they were employed to prevent grain from being eaten by rodents. According to the research journal Science, those days were, give or take, 12,000 years ago.

The Science study authors called the development which led to the domestication of wild cats, “one of the more successful ‘biological experiments’ ever undertaken.” The cats loved the steady diet of rodents; the humans loved the cost-free pest control; and the rodents didn’t like anything about the arrangement.

Cats are brilliant killing machines, with an exceptionally wide range of prey – in the thousands – and distinct characteristics. The latter includes hearing of 64000 Hz (dogs: 45000 Hz; humans: 20 Hz to 20 kHz); an acute sense of smell, 14 times greater than human; extraordinary flexibility; short muzzles with a very strong bite; teeth that can crunch bones; and detached collar bones (which is one way cats get into tiny spaces). In short, domestic cats are some of the deadliest predators on earth. It moves; they pounce. You think your kitten chasing the laser dot is cute, but that fuzz ball thinks he’s killing something.

In juxtaposition to the millions of pampered house cats today, are the millions of homeless feral cats who have not been exposed to human interaction. With a harsh existence and short life span, they do not live the lush life. But, at least for some, we may be circling right back to the earliest of times.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal’s Keiko Morris wrote an eye-opening piece about The Javits Center pest-control team, that being feral cats. A sustainability report, “Greening America’s Busiest Convention Center”, cited the cats as a safer, healthier, “greener” way to deal with rodents than the noxious effects of chemicals and their cost. Even better, with cats present, mice and rats pick up their scent and don’t even bother to drop in. In short, feral cats are the new green.

There currently are no groups we found (correct us if we’re wrong) that are rescuing ferals with the specific purpose of having them serve as working cats in New York City. (The NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals does not provide cats for the purpose of rodent control.) Then again, feed a feral cat, and you’ve found a new friend who will bring its friends.

Deli and bodega cats have long been around in New York City. The cats are illegal and store owners can be cited for health violations. And yet they can also be cited for signs of mice and rats. Who would you rather see at the bodega? If you remember the sensational video of rats gone wild at a downtown Sixth Avenue KFC/Taco Bell, my guess is you’d also prefer to see a furball who purrs.

New York City is not the leader in commercial homes for feral cats. That honor goes to Chicago where the “Tree House Cats at Work Project” has set the bar for removing at-risk feral cats from dangerous situations and, after vetting and sterilization, relocating them to places where they can control the rodent population. The cost for three feral cats from Tree House is $600 with a waiting list.

CNN called the Chicago program the “Ultimate Weapon in Public Health” and The Wall Street Journal called working cats the “new must-have accessory”.

With the City’s war on rats an extraordinary failure through the reign of 108 mayors and counting, perhaps the world’s greatest and most adorable predator will be our long-awaited answer.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Oh those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags! While inroads have been made, such as recycling and reuse programs (New York, Maine) and banning their use (California, Hawaii), plastic grocery/take-out bags have a large presence in our lives. Every year, 88 million tons of them are manufactured. And, every year, they continue to strain landfills and harm oceans, rivers, forests and wildlife.

Have you heard that it takes 500 or even 1,000 years for a plastic carryout bag to degrade? And, have you wondered, as we haven’t been using them for more than half a century, how would anyone know?

The answer is scientific testing. Carryout bags, being made of man-made polymer – polyethelene – are not degraded by microorganisms as, say, an apple core or paper will be, because said microorganisms don’t recognize polyethelene as food. But, while the bags don’t biodegrade, they do photodegrade, taking those estimated 500-1,000 years for the sun to break down polymers until they become brittle and crumble.

Now, because of an observation during a beekeeper’s cleaning of her hives, a new environmental hero has emerged. Literally. It’s the lowly, one-inch wax worm also known as the honey worm caterpillar that loves to make its home and hatch its eggs among the delicious goop of honeycombs.

As it happens, the beekeeper also happened to be a research scientist in Spain. Upon finding the worms within her hives’ honeycomb panels, she put them aside in a plastic bag while finishing her cleaning. When she went for the worms, they’d tunneled out of their plastic prison.

Subsequent research studies showed that it’s not just about eating the plastic; cocoons placed on the plastic also degrade it, leading to the conclusion that the worms have an enzyme that does the swift degrading.

One interesting connection is that the plastic shares a similarity to the chemical compounds of beeswax, of which wax worms are especially fond. The hope is that researchers can isolate and reproduce the enzyme on an industrial scale and ultimately make inroads into the persistent environmental problem of plastic bag waste.

Environmental pollution is way up there when it comes to complex problems. Which is why is would be immensely satisfying if the (relatively) simple answer to the use of 500 billion plastic bags per year is the taste proclivities of an unassuming one-inch caterpillar.

With acknowledgement to the Live Science website, if you’d like to see a video of the caterpillars degrading a plastic bag, you can click here: http://www.livescience.com/58812-watch-amazing-caterpillars-degrade-a-plastic-bag-video.html

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A scant six years ago, the NYC Health Dept. ended the ban on beekeeping. Your first thought – if you gave it any – might be how nice for people in the boroughs with backyards and time to play at beekeeping. But it certainly doesn’t seem in sync with fast and furious, non-bucolic Manhattan. Or does it?

Well, yes. It does and is. There are a surprisingly large number of beekeepers amidst the city’s masters of the universe. You might catch a glimpse at a community garden, but land is incredibly scarce and valuable in the city. That’s why most NYC cultivated bee hives are out of view on rooftops, particularly those that have followed recent trends with green roofs as well as commercial buildings’ setback large patios and balconies.

We all know New York is an extraordinary city. We have an article in this blog that calls it The Unlikely Green Utopia. Now, with beepeeing growing at a fast clip, there’s new support for that definition. Unlike commercial hives that are being devastated by (the word is) pesticides, NYC hives are thriving because, well, there’s not a lot of farming going on in Midtown. The bees are living in a fairly pristine environment, free to roam and enjoy flowers in parks, gardens, backyards, the delicious largesse of Central Park and along seasonally planted medians like Park Avenue

According to the National Honey Board, honeybees have to fly over 55,000 miles and tap two million flowers to make a pound of honey. Think of that the next time you put a teaspoon – the equal to the life’s work of 12 honeybees – in your tea.

Honeybees are in decline and, if it continues, the result will be disastrous to both food supplies and economies. If Colony Collapse Disorder, as it is known, continues unchecked, projections are that one-third of the food on our tables – berries, fruits and vegetables – will disappear.

Thus, the growth of healthy hives in New York City is a very welcome development. Lest you be concerned, these bees are gentle and docile; they have zero interest in attacking or stinging you. If you encounter one, don’t flail, hit or yell. Just move on and the bee will, too. Don’t confuse this honeybee species, Apis Mellifera, with Africanized “killer bees” which are much more aggressive and are found mostly in Texas and the Southwest; the yellow jackets you see flying around trash receptacles in summer; bumblebees (which are much larger and fatter); or wasps and hornets which are much nastier. Give all of them a wide berth.

As NYC, particularly Manhattan hives, are mostly found on rooftops or high floor green spaces, they are both hidden and private. You wouldn’t know it but, for example, The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel has a 300,000 population bee farm; there is a bee farm at the Whitney Museum of Art; hundreds of hives and thousands of bees at One Bryant Park; on the 76th floor of the Residence Inn Hotel; Brooklyn Grange at the Brooklyn Navy Yard has a huge apiary (as well as a bee education training program); Brooks Brothers flagship rooftop in Midtown has 300,000 Italian honeybees. We’ve also read about rooftop hives at The Westin Hotel; Google building; York Preparatory School; and as part of an art installation at MoMA.

There is a New York City Beekeepers Association which offers urban beekeeping courses and where you can “catch the buzz”. Its sponsor is New York City’s best known beekeeper, Andrew Cote of Andrew’s Honey. He’ll set up your hives; care for them; consult; “bee wrangle”; and take you and a small group on an Urban Honey Tour (and you think you’ve seen everything).

And when and if you see a swarm of bees, who you gonna call? Andrew. He’ll remove it for you. The swarm isn’t dangerous as the bees have tummies full of honey and are just looking for a new summer home for their queen and hive. Let’s hope they spend summer in the city and don’t rent in the Hamptons.

 

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Though much quoted and imitated, Jimmy Cagney never said “You dirty rats.” He did say “…you dirty yellow-bellied rat…” in the 1932 film “Taxi”, but I digress, as the point is not the correctness of Cagney’s quote, but that rats truly are, um, dirty filled with viruses, pathogens, fleas and ticks.

You live here, you’ve seen a rat. If you haven’t seen one, you’re not looking close enough. Sewers. Subways. Streets. Sidewalks. Tree notches. Large swaths of greenery and bushes. They’re there. Like the huge one a friend of mine who, in her kindness and naivety, once shared a tuna fish sandwich with in full daylight at the entrance to Central Park near The Plaza Hotel. She thought it was a cat until it turned around and she saw the long pink tail. She also said it was very well behaved. Maybe it was the quality of the neighborhood.

New York City is indeed the place millions of rats call home. A recent study by a Ph.D candidate in the statistics department at Columbia University concluded there are no more than two million rats to 8 million humans. Compare that to Paris which has the reverse statistic of 8 million rats to 2 million humans which can really destroy the romantic vision of strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine.

Rats don’t live long, but they live large. They can have a new litter every few months. Squeeze through a gap the size of a quarter. Tread water for 3 days. Leap about 4 feet and survive a five-story fall. The rats we see in the City are brown Norway rats. We used to have black, or ship rats, but in a rodent version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (“Two men enter; one man leaves”), the brown rats trapped and killed them. Which gives us pause for thought that rats have been better at rat extermination than humans are.

Named one of the “Top 10 Worst Rat Cities in the World” by the TV station Animal Planet, New York is in good company along with Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, London and Paris. What all the cities have in common are older infrastructures and buildings and population density. Sanitation also plays a big role in attracting or controlling rats.

Regardless of the difficulty of eradicating rats from the city, numerous mayors have made the noble and, to date, futile attempt to do so. We say futile because rats have been here since Colonial times and have shown no signs of leaving in the ensuing 400 years.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio targeted the rodents with $2.9 million in rat control money in the city budget. He joins other recent mayors including Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg in the fight against rats. Hope may spring eternal, but so far, the rats have lost some battles, but are still winning the war.

“There have been 109 mayors of New York and, it seems, nearly as many mayoral plans to snuff out the scourge. Their collective record is approximately 0-108,” said an article in The New York Times when Mayor de Blasio announced his rat attack plan. With luck, planning and commitment, perhaps the record will be 1-108.

P.S. Lest you were wondering about the popularity of this topic, there is a book entitled “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It was a New York Times bestseller.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

From dense landscaping, city parks, green rooftops and community gardens to OneMillionTreesNYC, there’s a little known and even less understood benefit to all this greening of the city. The more green spaces we provide, the more the bat population flourishes. Bats love living la dolce vita in green urban areas.

Bats you say? Bats? They’re evil (forget Bram Stoker’s Dracula); they suck human blood (forget Bram Stoker’s Dracula); they’ll attack me (only in self defense so don’t rile them); they get rabies (yes they do but the incidence is very low at less than 0.5%); they’ll fly into my hair and get tangled in it (no, they won’t).

Forget all the lore and misconceptions except possibly the popularity of the superhero Batman. Though you don’t want them in your home, these little guys provide a number of benefits.

The most common species in New York City is the little brown bat, only 2” with a 4” wingspan. There is also a larger variety. They both love to nest in the corners and crevices of buildings, preferably older ones with a nice selection of cobwebs. Red, hoary and silver-haired bats, also species found here, like to nest in trees, either in trunk crevices or within foliage.

The question is: why should we welcome these flying creatures to the neighborhood?

“Bats are beneficial mammals because they are efficient predators of insects,” says the Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet on Bats from Cornell Cooperative Extension. “A colony of 100 little brown bats, the most abundant species in New York, consume hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes and other small insects each summer.”

Thus bats help rid the city of the nuisance of small flying insects; reduce insect bites which can be annoying and painful; and help thwart the spread of diseases like West Nile virus. Bats eat insects like you eat M&Ms, feasting on 600-1,000 mosquitoes per hour. Their voracious appetites save approximately $3 billion in insecticide use for agriculture.

All of that is why the city has encouraged growth of the bat population by building simple bat houses (which swarms of the little guys move into) in parks throughout the city.

To learn more about bats, even take a guide tour offered seasonally, log onto the Urban Park Rangers and Central Park Conservancy websites.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services