This week, I’ll be stepping outside of my normal turf, the home, and focusing on environmental efforts around the home, in neighborhoods and greater communities.

As I noted in a post last year about Poughkeepsie's park-pushing activist Fred Schaeffer, the home is where the green heart is — but eco-friendly abodes thrive best in communities where there’s a palpable sense of eco-awareness. 

This isn’t to say that every home in a cul-de-sac needs to have the LEED stamp of approval. It can mean carpooling out of the ‘burbs with your neighbor each morning; organizing a neighborhood litter pickup once a month; or getting the word out about local green businesses. And in the case of my own waterfront neighborhood, Red Hook, Brooklyn, it can mean banding together as a community to force a plus-sized, highly polluting transient neighbor named Mary to clean up her act.

Since 2006, Red Hook has been home to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the terminal is right at my doorstep: My apartment building is a block away (see the Google Map screenshot below; "A" is the terminal's main entrance and "B" is my apartment building) from the port, so that during high cruise season, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and the Caribbean Princess become insta-neighbors. I actually think living next to a cruise ship terminal is exciting and unique. I love chatting with and giving directions to the bewildered passengers (mostly elderly and mostly British … you can spot ‘em from a mile away) who wind up wandering around my decidedly non-touristy neighborhood. And although the giant luxury liners are occasional view-blockers, I enjoy looking out my living room window and coming face to face with either a queen or a princess. Now only if these royal ladies would invite me on board …

However, living in such close proximity to a cruise ship terminal has significant downsides. Ever since the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal opened for business, Red Hook residents have complained of the air pollution associated with the docked boats. Unlike cruise ship terminals on the West Coast where vessels shut off their engines and run on “shore power” provided by giant electrical outlets, idle cruise ships on the East Coast continue to run their engines and emit diesel fumes into the air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these fumes can aggravate asthma along with other respiratory diseases and increase the risk of cancer. (I have never noticed any declines in my own health because of the ships.) 

But thanks to a whole lot of protest from Red Hook residents, community boards, local activist groups and other concerned parties, things are about to become a whole lot cleaner in Red Hook.

After two years of heated negations and squabbling over who will foot the bill, ships docking at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will finally be forced to turn off their engines and run off of shore power just like their West Coast cousins. When this goes into effect next year, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will be the first East Coast cruise terminal to switch to this cleaner technology known as cold ironing. Sure, in the grand scheme of things the transitioning from diesel-burning to electricity-guzzling is far from environmentally perfect. But as a temporary solution while more advanced clean energy solutions for cruise ships are (hopefully) developed, the decision does offer Brooklyn residents a long-overdue breath of non-polluted fresh air.

And on the topic of fresh air, according to an environmental impact study cited in The New York Times, a large cruise ship burning diesel fuel emits more than 1,600 tons of air pollutants on a yearly basis. The switch to cold ironing in Red Hook will halt the emission of around 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 95 tons of nitrous oxide, and 6.5 tons of diesel particulate matter annually.

Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, tells The New York Times that the switch to electric power “will be the equivalent of removing 5,000 cars per year from the road annually.”

Adam Armstong, a blogger/activist and fellow resident of Pioneer Street, explains to the NYT that the switch to electric charging is … “not only a win for Red Hook and the residents that have been breathing in stuff for a long time, but these fumes have been affecting a broad part of Brooklyn, from Carroll Gardens to Cobble Hill up to Park Slope. The smoke doesn’t know any boundaries.”

Thanks for all of your hard work, neighbor.

As mentioned, the cleaning up of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal took such a long time because of — predictably — money. Under the new agreement, the New York Power Authority will supply the juice at a rate of 28 cents per kilowatt hour. The Carnival Corporation, the British-American owner and operator of the Cunard Line and Princess Cruises, will pay 12 per kilowatt hour. The power authority and the EDC will split the remaining 16 cents. Additionally, Carnival will shell out $4 million to retrofit its ships so that they can "plug in" at the Red Hook port. In addition to retrofitting costs, it’s estimated that using shore power will cost the company $1 million more per year than running diesel generators. Upgrading infrastructure at the terminal itself has cost the Port Authority $12 million in addition to a contribution from the EPA of $2.9 million.

Fantastic. Now if they'll only do something about greening another highly polluting neighbor of mine, the BQE ...

Via [The New York Times]

Also on MNN: How to make a family cruise as eco-friendly as possible

Google screeshot: Matt; Queen Mary 2 photo: j_bary/Flickr;Pioneer St. photo: jebb/flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Brooklyn's cruise ships to 'plug-in'
Two of my filthiest neighbors, a Queen and a Princess, clean up their acts thanks to a major, air pollution-curbing switch to electric charging at the Brooklyn