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New York Climate Exchange

Joseph Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature and the inaugural director of Stony Brook University’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University named Joseph Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature, the inaugural director of a Native American and Indigenous Studies effort as the university plans to hire three new faculty in this nascent undertaking.

Next year, the southern flagship school of the State University of New York plans to add staff in the English Department, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Anthropology.

“I have been eager for this to start,” said Pierce, a member of the Cherokee Nation who has been at the university for a decade. “We have so much to contribute to broader discussions that are happening around the world. The university is better by including Native American studies.”

Andrew Newman, professor and chair of the Department of English at SBU. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Andrew Newman, professor and current chair of the Department of English, who is also chair of a committee advising Axel Drees, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, described Pierce as having a “real national profile,” adding that he was the “right person to be the founding director.”

Starting next fall, students at the university can minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies, where they can study the history, art, social and political interests, languages and cultures of Indigenous peoples.

The focus on Native American Studies will emphasize transdisciplinary topics such as environmental justice and sustainability.

Earlier this year, Stony Brook won a competition to develop Governors Island as a climate solutions center [See story, “SBU will develop $700M climate center on Governors Island,” April 26, TBR News Media].

Indigenous scholars should have a “seat at the table,” said Newman, “as they are globally one of the demographics most impacted by climate change.”

Islands in the Pacific are disappearing, Guam is undergoing “significant environmental degradation,” and fires in the Pacific Northwest and leaking pipelines in the United States and Canada are “disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples,” Pierce added.

Indigenous groups relate to the land in a way that’s different from others, approaching it as stewards and caretakers, Pierce said.

“We see land as a relative,” he noted. “We’re asking very different questions about what it means to care for a place and to care for the environment and to care for the life that sustains it.”

The New York City government proposed plans for flood relief on the lower East Side of Manhattan in the event of future storms like Hurricane Sandy. The proposals included building massive walls and raising elevated platforms, including clearing thousands of trees.

Numerous indigenous groups objected and protested against such plans, Pierce said.

In an email, Carl Lejuez, Stony Brook University’s provost, suggested that a significant piece of Governors Island is climate justice, so the link between the Governors Island effort and indigenous peoples “fits naturally with the goals of the New York Climate Exchange.”

Axel Drees, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SBU. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

Lejuez credited Drees as a “driver of this in collaboration with Professor Pierce.” Lejuez added that his office is “definitely providing support to see it come to fruition.”

The most crucial component in the start of this effort is hiring faculty.

“If we build the core faculty across the university, we can definitely consider expanding research and curriculum opportunities,” Lejuez wrote.

Student interest

Students from the Anthropology Department recently invited Pierce to give a talk about some of his current research.

“It was evident that a lot of them have an interest in working toward understanding humanity, what it means to be human,” he said. They also have an understanding of how anthropology as a discipline has sometimes historically “adopted rather unscientific and proto-eugenic methods” in describing and analyzing Indigenous Peoples.

Students are eager for an alternative perspective on the acquisition and acceptance of knowledge.

Pierce believes students have considerable interest in Native American Studies. His courses about Latin American indigenous populations are full.

“There are numerous students who are interested in Native American and Indigenous studies but don’t quite have a cohesive plan of study that’s available to them,” Pierce said. “This is remedying that disconnection.”

Long Island students grow up in numerous towns and communities with Native American names, such as Sachem, Wyandanch, Montauk and Setauket.

Newman added that the staff hopes the new effort can do some “outreach to local schools and provide professional development with kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers. It would be an important mission for the university to educate Long Island as a whole about Native culture.”

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Climate change often conjures images of violent storms, rising sea levels and endangered animals.

Scientists around the world warn so often about the dangers to our one and only planet that some couples have decided to hold off — or even not — have children among all the future anxiety.

Amid all that worry, however, New York City, the Trust for Governors Island, Stony Brook University and a team of other universities, nonprofits and businesses are working on the kind of solutions that could lead to a better future.

On a sun-splashed Monday morning at Governors Island just off the southern tip of Manhattan, Mayor Eric Adams (D), SBU President Maurie McInnis, Simons Foundation President David Spergel and a host of other luminaries discussed a new $710 million center for climate solutions, which Stony Brook as the anchor institution has called the New York Climate Exchange.

With $100 million in backing from the Simons Foundation, $50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from New York City, the center will serve a host of important functions, including retraining 6,000 workers a year for jobs in the green energy sector, providing incubator space for businesses that are working on climate solutions and educating children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In addition to the huge win for Stony Brook, which competed against other high-powered public and private universities for this coveted lead role, the effort could be a victory for New York, the surrounding mid-Atlantic states, the country and the planet.

Near the Statue of Liberty, which is a beacon of hope for democracy and an iconic symbol of the country, the Governors Island effort can come up with solutions and alternatives to a doom-and-gloom scenario while also sparking a commitment from students eager to find an outlet for their energy and creativity.

Will the center on its own help the world avoid the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature from the pre-Industrial Revolution days that scientists often point to as a tipping point for the planet? 

Absolutely not. That’s up to everyone from government and state leaders to huge companies and even individuals in the U.S. and throughout the world.

What the climate center, which will be completed in 2028 and will generate its own electric power without adding greenhouse gasses, will do is encourage dialogue with everyone, offer hope and provide a place for the best and brightest minds to develop answers to some of the world’s most troubling questions.

Coming just a few days after Earth Day, that is worth celebrating.

Photo by Lucas Blair Simpson © SOM

When the City of New York and the Trust for Governors Island chose Stony Brook University to lead a collection of institutions to build a new climate solutions center on Governors Island, the moment marked both an ending and a beginning.

For Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which provided a concept-level design for the institution, the announcement brings SOM and the work it will do with the Manhattan-based landscape architecture firm MNLA to a new stage.

“The work we have done is essentially through a concept level of design,” said Keith O’Connor, principal at SOM. “Now that Stony Brook has been selected, we’ll be doing much more detailed work in schematic design and design development.”

While the plans call for the biggest mass timber building in New York City, the developers of the project, which will start in 2025 and is expected to open in 2028, have not gotten into the details about all the materials they will use and where they will purchase them.

As with so many other decisions related to a center dedicated to understanding and combating the effects of climate change, the choices for the materials will reflect the center’s goals.

“It’s not only about how we come up with the best system and most appropriate design,” O’Connor said. “It has to be a holistic picture. It’s all about the full life of the materials — everything from where they originate, how they are processed and how they are transported and shipped.”

The decisions will consider the future and the way the center, which Stony Brook has named the New York Climate Exchange, might reuse or adapt the materials.

In addition, SOM and Stony Brook are committed to executing changes in the construction of the 400,000-square-foot facility, which will include 230,000 square feet of new buildings and 170,000 square feet of refurbished space.

SOM will share information related to the process.

“We need to help other people understand how they, too, can make intelligent choices,” O’Connor said.

SOM plans to implement tried and true technologies and push the envelope in doing things that haven’t been done.

“What we do with the Exchange can help move the market,” said O’Connor.

SOM has been working with mass timber in several projects, including for the Billie Jean King Library in Long Beach, California. SOM will also use mass timber as a part of the High Line-Moynihan Train Hall Connector, a pedestrian path between Moynihan Train Hall, Manhattan West and the High Line.

O’Connor explained that mass timber doesn’t need an additional finish on top of it, which allows builders and designers to use less material.

The design of the buildings will be 18 feet in elevation, which is 10 feet higher than the existing structures. Stony Brook and SOM wanted the buildings to have resilience amid future storm surges.

The goal of the Exchange is to use effective design techniques to enhance resilience.

Part of the proposal involves altering the stone sea wall, a hard-engineered armored edge of the island, and replacing it with a living shoreline that is ecologically and landscape based.

The island will have a variety of plantings to create a terrestrial and diverse habitat, O’Connor added.

Working with MNLA, SOM is coming up with plantings that are appropriate for conditions ranging from elevations of five and eight feet with exposure to salt spray up to 18 feet.

O’Connor explained that the teams involved in the project are eager to start working. The next steps will include design engineering, procurement and construction, which will “take some time.”

O’Connor was pleased to be involved in a project that is “profoundly meaningful to our city and society.” He suggested such work might occur once or twice in a generation or a career.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, center, was among the panelists at the Charles B. Wang Center discussing the creation of the New York Climate Exchange. Photo by Daniel Febrizio

Stony Brook University students and faculty gathered Tuesday, April 25, at the Charles B. Wang Center for a special town hall meeting that marked the creation of the New York Climate Exchange on Governors Island in New York City. The event was free and open to the public.

The panelists included Maurie McInnis, SBU president; Jed Shivers, senior vice president for finance and administration; Kevin Reed, associate dean for Research in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences; and Keith O’Connor, principal at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has been developing this project.

The event was moderated by Craig Allen, chief meteorologist for WCBS-880 and a former Stony Brook University graduate.

McInnis spoke on her excitement regarding this opportunity for Stony Brook to be the anchor institution for the climate exchange.

“Setting ambitious goals, responding to society’s greatest needs and propelling our university to even higher levels of excellence … this is the Stony Brook way, and it’s why we’re here today,” McInnis said. She added that SBU is going to “bring together the world’s most innovative organizations across sectors to problem solve and turn solutions into action.”

Shivers explained that “the climate exchange is a separate and distinct charitable organization” from the university and that “no Stony Brook University funds shall be utilized as part of the capital that needs to be raised to do the design or the construction work or support the initial operating expenses.”

Reed followed by noting that while SBU will not be making financial investments, “what Stony Brook is going to get to invest is our ideas and, as the president already mentioned, our problem-solving skills.”

O’Connor spoke on how “all of the energy will be generated on-site” because it is going to be a “100% electric campus.” He added that “one of the objectives is the buildings, the landscape and the systems all coming together to demonstrate how you build a sustainable long-term campus.”

After the conclusion of the town hall, which included a brief Q&A that allowed some members of the audience to speak, TBR spoke to some attendees to get their reactions to this announcement.

Sergio Perez, a professor from the Marine Engineering Department of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, expressed excitement at the promise and potential of this project since hundreds of millions of dollars will go into it. “We can do a vast improvement to Governors Island,” Perez said. “At the very worst it’s going to create lots of jobs. But at the very best it will have an effect on climate change.” 

Sky Freeman, a student studying journalism and political science, said he believes “it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for Stony Brook to combat climate change.”

“I think if I had the opportunity to get involved, it would definitely be something I would seriously consider,” Freeman said. “I think the design of the building is very unique, very cool — it’ll create a great atmosphere on the island.”

He added that he does not think that most students are aware of the plans for the climate exchange, but that he knows there is a lot of excitement from the administration and from faculty.

Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at SBU, said that he anticipates his school being a “contributor to the success of the exchange.”

“Our faculty will be involved in many ways in developing programs and engaging in some of the research that goes on there,” Shepson said. “I love that Stony Brook is leading in the creation of this exchange where we’re going to be a convener of the best minds in the world in identifying and implementing solutions to the climate crisis.”

While there is still more planning and development to be done, McInnis said it is anticipated that ground will be broken on the project in 2025 for completion by 2028.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, left, shakes hands with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

With a vision to turn parts of Governors Island into a world-class center that blends into the surrounding greenery, Stony Brook University won the highly competitive process to create a climate solutions center.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and the Trust for Governors Island earlier this week named Stony Brook the lead in teaming up with other universities, nonprofits and businesses to create a $700 million facility that will start construction in 2025 and open in 2028.

Backed by a $100 million donation from the Simons Foundation, a $50 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from the City of New York, Stony Brook will create a unique 400,000 square-foot facility.

The center will house research laboratories and host community discussions, train 6,000 people to work in green energy jobs per year, provide educational opportunities and search for climate solutions, including those that affect low-income communities of color.

“Climate change is here and the danger is real,” Adams said at a press conference on Governors Island unveiling the winner of the competition. “I am proud to announce that we have selected a team led by Stony Brook University to deliver the New York Climate Exchange.”

Adams suggested the Stony Brook team, which includes local partners like Pace University, New York University and the City University of New York, will protect the city’s air and water.

The Trust for Governors Island also anticipates the site, which will include a “semester abroad” on-site, fellowships and internship programs, will host scientific symposiums that can bring together leaders in a range of fields.

In an email, Simons Foundation President David Spergel hopes the center will “nucleate new business that generates jobs in the region, invest in new technologies and advance solutions.”

The foundation is helping to recruit other benefactors to meet the financial needs for the site both by the example of its commitment and through personal interactions, Spergel said.

Stony Brook, meanwhile, which has a deep pool of researchers at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences investigating climate-related issues, doesn’t plan to wait until the buildings are refurbished and constructed to start the conceptual and educational work.

During phase zero, the university will “work with our partners immediately” on developing programs for kindergarten through grade 12 outreach, on scaling up green workforce development and on developing collaborative research projects across institutions, SBU President Maurie McInnis said in a town hall discussion with the campus community.

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Practice what it preaches

In addition to providing space that will generate and test out ideas for solutions to climate change, the New York Climate Exchange buildings will minimize the carbon footprint.

There will be 230,000 square feet of new space and 170,000 square feet of refurbished existing structures. The plans, which were created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, involve creating the biggest mass-timber building in New York City. As an alternative to concrete and steel, mass timber has a lower carbon footprint and is lighter.

Mass timber uses “less material and in a more efficient way,” said Keith O’Connor, principal at SOM, who runs the city design practice in New York and Washington, D.C., in an interview.

SOM designed the tops of the buildings with 142,000 square feet of solar cells, which will generate more than enough power for the site, enabling the center to provide all of its electricity needs and to send some energy to the city.

“We wanted to work really hard to avoid having a field of solar panels sitting off to the side” or sticking solar panels on each roof, O’Connor said. Instead, the solar panels, which will be at slightly different angles from each other, track the topography of the structures without creating a glaring field of reflected light.

Guests who arrive at Governors Island will notice a solar canopy that is “front and center,” O’Connor said. “It’s about a message for everyone who is visiting — it says that energy generation is critical.”

SOM wanted to find a way to create a warm and welcoming aesthetic that provides energy, O’Connor added.

All of the nondrinking water will come from rainwater and treated wastewater.

The site anticipates diverting 95% of waste from landfills, making it one of the first in the country to achieve true zero-waste certification.

“The concept of the physical structure is astonishing,” David Manning, director of Stakeholder Relations at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which will serve as an adviser on the center, said in an interview. “You want to attract the best and the brightest. You do that with programming. It doesn’t hurt that [the design and the facilities] are also cool.”

An aerial rendering of the island after construction, which will also include 4.5 acres of new open space, looks more like a park than a typical research station.

Governors Island, which hosts about a million visitors each year who arrive on ferries that run every half hour, plans to double the ferry service, with trips traveling every 15 minutes during the day starting next year. Also in 2024, the city will start using a hybrid electric ferry to reduce emissions.

Considerable collaborative support

McInnis expressed her gratitude to the team at Stony Brook and to her partners for putting together the winning proposal.

McInnis suggested that the university’s commitment to studying, understanding and mitigating climate change, coupled with national and international collaborations, would unite numerous strengths in one place.

“We knew we had the right team to lead this effort,” said McInnis at the announcement on Governors Island. “We also knew we needed a diverse set of partners” in areas including environmental justice, in the business sector and in philanthropic communities.

Other partners include Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Duke University, Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Oxford, England.

BNL’s Manning appreciated the opportunity to attend the kickoff of the project on Governors Island. 

Near the tip of Manhattan amid a “stunning blue sky,” the gathering was the “perfect setting” to announce and create solutions that were “this future focused,” Manning said.