Donnel Baird is the founder of BlocPower, a clean tech startup based in New York City. BlocPower develops portfolios of clean energy retrofit opportunities in underserved communities, and connects those opportunities to investors seeking social, environmental, and financial returns. BlocPower creates jobs for qualified local low-income workers, energy savings for community institutions, reduces carbon emissions, and provides returns to investors. Baird is a graduate of Duke University and Columbia Business School, where he was a recipient of the Board of Overseers Fellowship and a recipient of investment from the Lang Fund for Entrepreneurial Initiatives. He spent four years as a political and community organizer, and more than two years managing a national initiative to leverage American Reinvestment and Recovery Act energy efficiency investments in underserved communities. Baird is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. and is a perpetually exasperated fan of the New York Knicks.
How financial innovation is giving cities jobs, wealth and health
Want to live in an energy efficient masterpiece? This startup has turned a costly overhaul into an opportunity for investors.
Donnel Baird: So aging infrastructure is a huge contributor to high costs and actually poor public health in urban areas. And the way that works is the utility companies, they have these power plants—normally in kind of rural areas, a little bit further away from the cities—and then they have these huge transmission lines that they use to transmit the electricity to an urban center. And you actually produce a ton of electricity and kind of lose a pretty significant percentage of it as it moves, and so there’s already some cost that everyone is paying for through older, inefficient infrastructure because of the inefficiency of the transmission lines.
And the actual age and inefficiency of the buildings themselves are also pretty expensive, because they waste energy. They're inefficient, they over-consume electricity per square foot. That’s how aging infrastructure really contributes to wasted electricity, and wasted electricity is expensive electricity.
We’re learning that when you green a building, when you do energy efficiency in a building, you’re actually lowering the amount of indoor air pollution that gets trapped inside the building, and so we’re actually reducing asthma rates as we green each building. And lots of inner-city communities have lots of pollution, the pollution gets trapped inside the buildings and it drives high asthma rates, there’s lots of families going to the emergency room with chronic asthma—and so it’s this huge public health crisis. It’s a huge cost. And so we know that there’s all these benefits to greening buildings.
President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House I think in like the 1970s, before I was even born, and started a green buildings program called the Weatherization Assistance Program, I think in like 1976. And from then to now, from a policy perspective we’ve been trying to figure out how to unlock the benefits of energy efficiency across America for decades. Because we know that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy costs for building owners. It’s going to create local jobs. It’s going to reduce our dependence and reliance on foreign oil. And it’s just going to be awesome all around for the environment.
The challenges to greening the buildings is that each building is unique. It’s custom; it has its own profile, its own history, its own performance. You may have two buildings that were built at the exact same time but the history of maintenance is totally different, the owners have been totally different, the ways that the building are used are totally different. And so you have to learn about the profile of each building before you can make an energy efficiency intervention. And the cost of learning the profile of each building is prohibitive. It’s too expensive. And so the cost of analyzing these buildings can be anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000, depending on the size of the building. And it’s a difficult thing to ask a building owner to pay that amount of money to figure out what’s possible to do in terms of sustainability. So that’s problem number one.
And problem number two is that banks are not comfortable providing capital to many of these buildings. As part of thinking through our CGI U commitment we had to come up with a range of solutions for the engineering problem and the financial problem to help green buildings in American cities. So what we’ve had to do at BlocPower is we worked with Goldman Sachs and Barclays to develop a structured financial product whose only reason for existence is to figure out how to analyze buildings and borrow money in aggregate in a large enough pool so that we can kind of finance the green building interventions that we’ve made.
And then at BlocPower we’ve developed a set of technology working with data scientists and the Internet of Things that allow us to lower the building analysis cost by about 95 percent. We install sensors, we use cloud computing, we have an algorithm, a building science algorithm that we’ve built internally at BlocPower that takes all of the real-time data that we’re collecting from sensors that we install in the building. We analyze that real time data and we’re able to make recommendations as to what mix of solar panels, high efficiency heating systems, what ways we can kind of alter and optimize the performance of that building’s energy system so that it saves money, reduces greenhouse gas. We’re able to hire locally, to have local contractors come in and install solar panels, install new heating systems and boilers. So the project is going really well.
What’s so interesting about these buildings is that they’re really profitable investments, right. So if you can figure it out, you can make investments in some of these buildings that have a 60 percent financial return. They pay for themselves within one year and within two years you start to make a financial return, and in five years you’ve made a 50 percent return! I mean that’s better than buying stocks, right. There’s just a lot of industry barriers in terms of engineering analysis, financial analysis, construction, implementation, that stand in the way of getting green buildings projects off the ground.
So when we think five years from now, ten years from now about how green technology can really increase efficiency, improve infrastructure and lower costs instead of burning fossil fuels at a power plant, you know, 50 miles away from New York City or from Boston, we can now have local solar panels, solar PV. We can have local electric batteries that store electricity that’s generated by those panels inside the city of Boston or inside the city of New York. The electricity is produced locally, it’s transmitted locally, it’s used locally. We’re going to save a ton of money, and it’s going to be awesome for the environment.
Ever since President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979, innovators and green-minded politicians have been trying to unlock the enormous benefits of energy efficiency across America. But those benefits have remained illusive for two reasons, says BlocPower founder Donnel Baird: financial constraints and engineering complexities. Aged infrastructure like power plants cost us a lot, financially and environmentally. Our best shot at efficiency is by "greening" existing buildings so they can create power locally, rather than burning fossil fuels at a plant and transmitting electricity over long distances, wasting much of it along the way. The problem is that greening isn't cheap: it needs building analysis, and lots of capital to make the initial changes, which not all building owners have. Baird's startup BlocPower has developed technology to lower the cost of building analysis by a huge 95 percent, and matches investors with building owners—it turns out greening buildings is a very profitable investment. Here, Baird explains the details of how updating infrastructure can bring health and wealth to a city: "We know that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy costs for building owners. It’s going to create local jobs. It’s going to reduce our dependence and reliance on foreign oil. And it’s just going to be awesome all around for the environment."
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
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Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>
Staying healthy on a vegan diet<p>So, does a vegan diet necessarily lead to worse bone health? Not necessarily. But it's safe to say that people who don't consume meat, dairy and eggs should be extra vigilant about consuming enough essential nutrients. That can be harder than it seems.<br></p><p>One major reason is that the body generally has an easier time absorbing nutrients from animal foods than plant-based products. So, while a salad could contain the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk, the body absorbs more calcium when you drink milk. What's more, there are some molecules and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants#5.-Docosahexaenoic-acid-(DHA)" target="_blank">nutrients you simply can't get from plants</a>.</p><p>As such, many vegans round out their diets with supplements, including zinc, iron, iodine, long-chain omega-3s, and vitamins D, K-2, and B-12, to name a few. If you're on a vegan diet or considering making the switch, it's probably best to consult a dietician, and to make sure you maintain a <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">healthy BMI</a>.</p>
A study by UK archaeologists finds that longbows caused horrific injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- UK archaeologists discover medieval longbows caused injuries similar to modern gunshot wounds.
- The damage was caused by the arrows spinning clockwise.
- No longbows from medieval times survived until our times.
Battle of Agincourt.
The angle of entry into a cranium found during the excavation at a medieval Dominican friary in Exeter, England.
Credit: Oliver Creighton/University of Exeter
Never made a turkey before? Don't worry, science can help.
- This year, many people will be making a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. It's often harder than it looks.
- Luckily, an online calculator website has one just for thawing turkey, and can explain why you need to wait so long.
- The website has other calculators as well, for needs you didn't know you had.
How to thaw a turkey using science!<p> The Omni Calculator <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is home to calculators that can determine many things, including how <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/sunscreen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">long you can be in the sun safely</a>,<a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/sunscreen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a>to the odds of your town having a <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/white-christmas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">white Christmas</a>. It now has a dedicated tool for finding how long it will take you to prep your <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">turkey</a> in time for a socially distanced holiday. The <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank">Turkey Thawing Calculator </a>was created by Jagiellonian University cognitive science graduate Maria Kluziak with the help of Wojciech Sas, a Ph.D. candidate in molecular magnetism and nanostructures at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland. </p><p>The fundamental problem is that you need to add heat to the frozen bird to unfreeze it without also encouraging the growth of bacteria. To do this, you have to put the turkey somewhere where it will heat up slowly and evenly. There is a trick, though; this can take a long time because of the amount of energy involved. Exactly how long you need to spend on it can be hard to determine if you've never done it before. </p><p>This is where practical, day-to-day science comes in. The processes of heating something are well-studied areas of thermodynamics which we use every day. <br> <br> As Kluziak tells Big Think: </p><p>"If you look closely, you'll notice how we're all surrounded by numbers. Yet most of the time people choose to go with their intuition while making day-to-day decisions. We, as scientists and experts in our own fields, are trying to build a world where people make better, more informed decisions backed by concrete science - Using physics to chill drinks, math to find out how much pizza to get, and even calculating how much groceries are enough to survive a quarantine. It works."</p>
So, how do I thaw a turkey?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDgwNjA0Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzI3NTQzN30.hr2xv0tzFU_12bA-wwKwBPv0Tou_ZcdMoF1VDlov-0k/img.png?width=980" id="07afc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="522a8b8370fecb9dcb3bf483adea6fa5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Omni Calculator<p> By slowly exposing the turkey to cool air or water, it heats up to a point where the bird is above freezing but not so warm that bacteria will start multiplying. Two of the safe ways to do this stand above all others; you can thaw it in the refrigerator or the sink.<br> <br> Using a refrigerator can take days; the calculator creators suggest a day for every four pounds of bird. Doing it with cold water in the sink is faster, needing only two hours per pound, but requires that you drain and refill the sink with new, cold water every thirty minutes. The ideal temperature during thawing shouldn't exceed 39°F/4°C.</p><p>"In our thawing model, we use a scientific approach, which is based on the use of heat transfer equations," the scientists write. "Since these types of problems are, in general, very complicated, we use some approximations, which allow us to estimate the thawing time with reasonable accuracy. As a result, you can see how the average temperature of the turkey changes in time." </p><p>You can learn more about the equations and get tips on using the calculator <a href="https://www.omnicalculator.com/food/turkey-thawing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>. You can also learn why you shouldn't use a hairdryer or a tub full of hot water to do the job. <br> <br> One of the best parts of science is that its findings are often universally applicable. If you understand why something works in one case, you can use it everywhere else. Kluziak reminds us why this might be great for cooking:<br> <br> "The rules that govern the process of thawing are roughly the same for every kind of food, what's different are the numbers that determine the more specific things like thawing time. The general ideas remain the same regardless of the food, and I would say they are pure common sense. For example, if you're defrosting food, don't do it at room temperature to avoid bacteria - this is true every time!"<strong></strong></p><p><strong> </strong>Whoever said you'd never use the science you learned in high school at home didn't understand how often we use physics—this calculator remind us that it is everywhere. So fear not, ye first-time turkey chefs! Science can help you have your main course and eat it too. </p>