Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ahhh, the refreshing feel of government transparency

Okay, so maybe there's still a ton of information that we will never be able to reach and know about the going's on in our government, but the Obama Administration's attempts at creating what they hope will be "the most open and accessible administration in American history" are admirable to say the least. At the core of this effort is the Administration's remodeling of the entire White House website, located at www.whitehouse.gov

On this site, they post press releases, staff bios and backgrounds, policy agendas, The White House blog, and even a place where you can send comments or policy questions to the President and his staff. I recently submitted my first comment in response to the Obama Administration's inclusion of Clean Coal Technology into its Green Jobs Plan and Energy and Environment agenda. While its been awhile since I've posted, I thought I'd share my comments and the link to the whitehouse.gov site here.

Feel free to let me know what you think and send in some comments of your own about an issue you care about. Let's keep the communication going between the people and our government, so they know what we truly think.

"Dear President Obama and Vice President Biden,

I’m writing on behalf of my concerns about our administration’s inclusion of Clean Coal Technology in its Green Jobs Plan and its Energy and Environment Agenda. According to your website, the Obama Administration plans to “Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology” as a main part of its plan to create millions of new green jobs in the United States. However, as you are well aware of, public concern over global warming is rising and despite the coal industry’s recent focus on convincing the American people of its “commitment to clean”, many Americans are well aware of the truth that coal is an inherently dirty and unsustainable form of energy generation.

No matter which way you spin it, coal is neither a “clean” source of energy nor a proper investment in a sustainable energy future. The negative social, environmental and health consequences of coal power generation are well-documented and surely well understood by your administration. However, given its position as the number one source of electrical power generation in the US and the current administration’s inclusion of Clean Coal Technology into the category of Green Jobs and clean energy, it is important to point out why Clean Coal is not only environmentally damaging, but also the antithesis of what a sustainable economy stands for.

A close look into the economics of coal energy production reveals that this process does not foster durable jobs nor is it as cheap as it first seems. As Winona LaDuke, a Native American Green Jobs and environmental justice advocate points out, the influx of mining workers, machinery, and infrastructure into native and other mining communities has drastic social, political and cultural effects in what sociologists refer to as “boom town syndrome”. As such, mining communities rarely experience positive long-term economic prosperity, but rather fizzle out once their supplies of coal or demand for their products runs low.

Besides being a visual blight on communities, coal fired power plants disproportionately place high health and environmental burdens on low-income and minority populations. The negative health affects of coal power soot are many and include: asthma and other respiratory ailments, mercury poisoning, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and premature death. Similarly, particle pollution from coal causes acidification of waters, soil nutrient depletion, and destruction of crops and forests. All of these negative externalities are not only bad for the health of the American people but leave coal power generating communities with numerous new social, environmental, and economic challenges to face.

A final way that coal power is clearly an economic liability is through its contribution to accelerated and extreme climate change. It is well-known that coal-power generation is one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions not only in the United States, but also globally. As your administration and Congress work together to put a market based cap on CO2 emissions, the price of coal will only continue to rise in relation to other, cleaner sources of energy and energy savings, such as wind, solar, conservation, and efficiency. While Carbon Capture and Storage technologies have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 90 percent, they also vastly reduced the efficiency of power generation, increase cost, and are simply not available for deployment in the very near future. In an era where a significant part of global economic activity will need to consist of technologies and jobs that lead to a drastic reduction in CO2, it becomes apparent that clean coal is a band-aid solution at best.

In the coming months, as your administration and Congress decide how to invest billions of stimulus dollars to jump-start a green economy, you will continue to face the growing influence of the coal industry lobby in Washington. While the industry likes to advertise its commitment to “clean” energy, the fact remains that the industry’s leading companies have spent only a fraction of their multibillion-dollar profits to develop technologies that curb carbon emissions adequately, while spending large sums of money on efforts to convince Washington and the American people of the benefits of clean coal. As such, I urge you to support investments into technologies that will be sustainable not only in an environmental context, but also in an economic one. The American people need jobs they can count on for years to come, not jobs that will leave their towns desolate as the coal resources run out, that will leave their rivers and streams polluted and unavailable for healthy use, and that will become increasingly uncompetitive as the price of CO2 related energy production rises.
Thank you for your time, your Administration’s commitment to communication and contact with the American people, and your support of a Green Jobs economy.


Ryan Doyle"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Vergetarianism"... What's that!?

Two years ago, I began experimenting with some simple changes in my diet with the hope of reducing my "ecological footprint". Since then, I've gone on and off for a few weeks as a vegetarian, several months as a "vergetarian" (someone who eats meat only on rare-occasion), and have currently settled in on what I've found to be the right fit for my lifestyle: giving up red meat completely and eating at least 1 meal everyday completely vegetarian. My friends have definitely noticed the difference on my caf tray over the last two months, asking me why I'm ignoring the bacon in the breakfast line and or flank steak fajitas for dinner. Their frequent questions about what the point of my dietary changes are have led us into some interesting conversations that have ranged from the numerous benefits of doing so to the claim that humans are naturally omnivores and that becoming vegetarian is downright unnatural and dangerous to human health. Because of these conversations and some articles I've recently stumbled across on grist.org and BBC, I decided to write a post about the numerous environmental and social benefits of a diet with less meat.

But first a little disclaimer: as usual, the point of a post like this isn't to try to guilt people into giving up meat, rather it's just to highlight the many reasons out there why it's a really great (and surprisingly easy) option for many people who are concerned about doing their part to reduce their ecological footprint and fight accelerated climate change.

-In America today, the typical meal now revolves around what type of meat it includes. A typical dinner has a burger at the center of the plate, with some fries on the side. Or it's got pork chops as the centerfold, with potatoes and veggies on the side-or spaghetti, with four or five meatballs on top. Only fairly recently in the course of history has industrial meat production made it possible for so many in the developed world to make meat the main course of a meal. Before feedlots, slaughterhouses, and meat packing companies existed, meat was neither cheap enough nor available enough to be the centerpiece of every meal. In this sense, the meat-centric American diet is NOT as natural as it seems today (it was historically much more of a luxury item or a side dish) and as were increasing seeing its absolutely not sustainable.

Here's a few facts and thoughts I've gathered on the subject:
As this article on grist.org points out, "In 2006, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization published a 390-page report called "Livestock's Long Shadow." The dense document came to a startling conclusion: Livestock production -- including land-use changes for pasture and crop production -- contributes more to global warming than every single car, train, and plane on the planet."

-The average quarter pound of hamburger only reaches your table after the following production costs: 100 gallons of water, 1.2 pounds of grain, a cup of gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that produced by a six-mile drive in an average car, and the loss of 1.25 pounds of topsoil (source: Lily's Chickens by Barbara Kingsolver).

-Or we can look at it from an input cost perspective-in other words, how much energy it takes to raise our livestock. Every time we feed livestock in order to fatten them up before sending them to our supermarkets, we lose a great deal of the grain's energy in the animals' processes of digestion and metabolism. For this reason, eating a purely vegetarian diet is far less energy-intensive than eating meat.

-Different animals convert grain feed into milk, eggs and meat more efficiently than others-AKA, not all kinds of meat are created equally. For example, it takes only 1.1kg of feed to produce 1 kg of milk, 2.8 kg of feed to produce 1kg of chicken, 7.3kg per kg of pork produced, and 20kg to produce 1kg of meat! The environmental ramifications of this are well-stated by Kingsolver above. Not to mention the human ramifications that eating so high up on the food-chain has by putting all that grain to use feeding livestock rather than directly using it to feed the millions of people out there who could use it as well (Source: Environment: The Science Behind the Stories).

So, what simple lifestyle changes can we make to reduce our impact? As this article from the Guardian points out, "In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it [eating less meat] clearly is the most attractive opportunity,' said [Dr. Rajendra] Pachauri, [chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. 'Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,' said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian."

For me, a "vergetarian" lifestyle has never really been about animal rights. Instead, it's about making a pretty small lifestyle change that makes quite a big difference. If I happen to be a guest at a dinner gathering without many vegetarian options, or if I'm offered a grass-fed burger at a summer grill-out, being "vergetarian" doesn't require me to offend my host or reject treating my taste buds. That's why so many people find it easier to live a "vergetarian" lifestyle rather than a vegetarian one. After all, the point of making these choices is not to punish yourself. Instead, its about voluntary simplicity, or realizing that you're often happier and healthier when you opt not to eat that 1/4 pound burger and instead take a few minutes to cook vegetarian pasta with your friends. And if you end up reducing the amount of meat you eat by 50, 70, even 90%, then you'll have made quite a difference.

So, next time you're deciding what to make for dinner, see what it's like to opt for a meal without meat or go with turkey burger rather than a hamburger. You're likely to find that this really doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice after all, and as the above points show, it can make quite a big difference in your ecological (and carbon) footprint over the long term.

Friday, September 26, 2008

First Debate Produces No Clear Winner, but Obama edges out.

Tonight was a moment I'd been waiting for for a long time: Barack Obama and John McCain facing off in their first one-on-one Presidential Debate on live television. I was a little worried yesterday that McCain might successfully postpone the debate due to the urgency of the financial crisis situation, but thankfully there was enough pressure from the American public that McCain second guessed the political dividends that this gimmick might pay towards his campaign. (Sorry Senator McCain, but Gov. Palin's still going to have to face off with Senator Biden next week, as much as you'd love to give her some more time to prepare herself).

Fortunately for politically interested Americans, the debate went forward as planned. Overall, I think most people would agree that neither candidate vastly outperformed the other tonight, nor did either of them crash and burn. According to a CBS News poll following the debate, "40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw."

Nearly half of the debate was focused on the financial crisis and the economy, and rightfully so considering talk of a possible $700 billion dollar government bailout, mortgage closures, skyrocketing unemployment rates, and high gas prices. While I expected Obama to dance circles around McCain on economic issues, I thought McCain was able to hold his own. I was surprised with how articulate McCain was in presenting his policies, even if I didn't identify with most of what he was saying.

In fact, I thought both of them did certain things quite well: specifically energizing their base of supporters. As such, Obama's main plan for getting the economy back on track was tax cuts for the middle class and 95% of working Americans, offset by closing corporate tax loopholes and repealing the Bush tax cuts on those Americans making over $250,000 a year. Also, cutting wasteful government spending and having the long-term goal of getting out of Iraq. McCain's was to concentrate entirely on cutting wasteful government spending, to lower taxes, and to have less government involvement in general. In this sense, the strategy for the night seemed to be to "play to your base."

Frankly, I was a little disappointed that both candidates expressed too much of a willingness to postpone crucial projects in order to pay for the financial crisis, specifically their potential willingness to postpone crucial energy projects. Although, Obama said he would only be willing to alter parts of his energy strategy to adjust to hard times and cited the benefits that a clean energy revolution would have for the American economy. To me, the most ridiculous part of the debate was when John McCain offered a wild solution for the financial crisis when Jim Lehrer pressed him for more details, "How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs." A spending freeze? On almost everything except the US military (which gets the largest share of US budget appropriations)? It seems that McCain's only strategy for the economy is to cut taxes and cut spending and everything else will just work itself out. I though Obama's response to this was quite accurate,
"The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded...Let me tell you another place to look for some savings. We are currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when they have a $79 billion surplus. It seems to me that if we're going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we have to look at bringing that war to a close."

As usual, environmental issues were entirely ignored by the moderator and made virtually no appearance in the debate. However, energy policy did come up several times, and in that sense Global Climate Change was at discussed. What frustrates me most is when John McCain attempts to present himself as a leader on energy innovation in the Senate. When McCain was trying to distinguish himself as the great Mavericky Maverick that he is, he mentioned how he differs for George Bush on the issue of addressing climate change. Unfortunately, as Obama rightly pointed out Friday night, McCain has voted against renewable energy 23 times over his career in the US Congress. "And if we want to talk about oil company profits, under your tax plan, John -- this is undeniable -- oil companies would get an additional $4 billion in tax breaks." So as much as John McCain may be a slight improvement over George Bush on energy and the economy you can be assured that renewable energy and innovation is not his priority. Under a McCain-Palin administration we are going to see more drilling, more "clean" coal, 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, more tax breaks for oil companies, and then a little renewable energy on the side. (For more on how Obama is head and shoulders above McCain on energy and climate change see my previous two posts).

If anyone missed the debate, here's a link to the transcript online. The video can be found there also.

Next up, we'll get a chance to take a look at Senator Biden and Governor Palin going head to head this Thursday. Should be interesting.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friedman Says Election is No Brainer for Green Issue Voters

Thomas Friedman seems to agree with my last post about what McCain's VP choice of Sarah Palin (and his recent record) says about his environmental positions. He claims that "McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil." And he's right. McCain has officially proved as of late that he's just another green-washing poser. Check out the article below if you still think McCain has even a shred of green cred.

And Then There Was One

Published: September 2, 2008

As we emerge from Labor Day, college students are gathering back on campuses not only to start the fall semester, but also, in some cases, to vote for the first time in a presidential election. There is no bigger issue on campuses these days than environment/energy. Going into this election, I thought that — for the first time — we would have a choice between two "green" candidates. That view is no longer operative — and college students (and everyone else) need to understand that.

With his choice of Sarah Palin — the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change — for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.

Given the fact that Senator McCain deliberately avoided voting on all eight attempts to pass a bill extending the vital tax credits and production subsidies to expand our wind and solar industries, and given his support for lowering the gasoline tax in a reckless giveaway that would only promote more gasoline consumption and intensify our
addiction to oil, and given his desire to make more oil-drilling, not innovation around renewable energy, the centerpiece of his energy policy — in an effort to mislead voters that support for drilling today would translate into lower prices at the pump today — McCain has forfeited any claim to be a green candidate.

So please, students, when McCain comes to your campus and flashes a few posters of wind turbines and solar panels, ask him why he has been AWOL when it came to Congress supporting these new technologies. "Back in June, the Republican Party had a round-up," said Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club. "One of the unbranded cattle — a wizened old maverick name John McCain — finally got roped.
Then they branded him with a big 'Lazy O' — George Bush's brand, where the O stands for oil. No more maverick.

"One of McCain's last independent policies putting him at odds with Bush was his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," added Pope, "yet he has now picked a running mate who has opposed holding big oil accountable and been dismissive of alternative energy while focusing her work on more oil drilling in a wildlife refuge and off of our coasts. While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, 'The jury is still out on global warming.' She's the one hanging the jury — and John McCain is going to let her."

Indeed, Palin's much ballyhooed confrontations with the oil industry have all been about who should get more of the windfall profits, not how to end our addiction.

Barack Obama should be doing more to promote his green agenda, but at least he had the courage, in the heat of a Democratic primary, not to pander to voters by calling for a lifting of the gasoline tax. And while he has come out for a limited expansion of offshore drilling, he has refrained from misleading voters that this is in any way a solution to our energy problems.

I am not against a limited expansion of off-shore drilling now. But it is a complete sideshow. By constantly pounding into voters that his energy focus is to "drill, drill, drill," McCain is diverting attention from what should be one of the central issues in this election: who has the better plan to promote massive innovation around
clean power technologies and energy efficiency.

Why? Because renewable energy technologies — what I call "E.T." — are going to constitute the next great global industry. They will rival and probably surpass "I.T." — information technology. The country that spawns the most E.T. companies will enjoy more economic power, strategic advantage and rising standards of living. We need to make sure that is America. Big oil and OPEC want to make sure it is not.

Palin's nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness "reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attach├ęs," global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. "After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush
administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia."

So, college students, don't let anyone tell you that on the issue of green, this election is not important. It is vitally important, and the alternatives could not be more black and white.

Friday, August 29, 2008

VP picks and the Race for the White House

The last week of the Obama vs. McCain race for the White House has been an exciting one. Now that both nominees have picked their running mates and we are in the intermission between the Democratic and Republican conventions, the end of the Bush Administration finally seems to be coming into sight. So what, if anything, do the candidates VP picks say about their environmental positions? More specifically, what do their VP picks say about how they will address the most pressing environmental challenges of the 21st century: accelerated and extreme climate change and energy insecurity.

Let's take a look at Sarah Palin first. According to the McCain campaign, Gov. Palin "has challenged the influence of the big oil companies while fighting for the development of new energy resources." They claim she is equally as "mavericky" as John McCain and will be willing and able to help squeeze the influence of oil companies and other special interests out of our system while moving America on its path towards energy independence. Yet, when you take a look at Gov. Palin's record and her history on environmental and energy issues, you can't help but come to the conclusion that a McCain/Palin white house would be business as usual when it comes to energy and global warming.
Here's some interesting facts on Gov. Palin that point to her being much more of a Dick Cheney like VP (with his connections to Halliburton) than the type of energy reformist the McCain campaign claims she is and that this country needs.
-Opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies
-Is the chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate panel "that promotes the conservation and efficient recovery of domestic oil and natural gas resources while protecting health, safety and the environment"
-Proposed eliminating Alaska's Gas Tax
-Wants to open ANWR to drilling
-Palin's husband is also an oil production operator for BP.

Do we really need another Vice President with such deep ties and loyalties to Big Oil?

By the way, here's a nice little quote I stumbled upon from Gov. Palin: "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute [global warming] to being man-made."
Seriously? But wait, I thought John McCain prided himself on differing from his party on the issue of Climate Change?

All of this just points to the fact that John McCain does not seem to be truly concerned about accelerated and extreme climate change, energy innovation, or having the influence of oil companies whispering into his ears and those of his administration. The greatest evidence of this is his recent reversal of his opinion on offshore drilling and the "Drill here, drill now, pay less" dogma he and his colleagues have been shoving down the throats of the American people. John McCain continues to erode whatever semblance of environmental credibility and potential he may have ever had.

What about Joe Biden's record?

-For starters, Joe Biden has been a longtime leader in the Senate on Climate Change issues. In 1986 he introduced the very first bill designed to limit global warming pollution, the Global Warming Protection Act.
-Cited the energy crisis as America's top priority in his primary campaign for the white house last year.
-He is endorsed by the environmentally-minded League of Conservation Voters with an 83% lifetime voting score on environmental issues.
-During his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden has been a harsh critic of the oil industry and oil subsidies.

With 35 years of experience in the Senate, Biden now chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. As Joseph Romm pointed out in a recent article for Grist , achieving a comprehensive, binding, international treaty on Climate Change will be one of the most difficult and important task facing the next administration. This is where Biden's experience will truly prove salient. "The great challenge...will require not merely strong domestic action by the world's richest country, the one that has admitted by far the most cumulative amount of carbon dioxide. It will also require global leadership by us, the ability to negotiate one-on-one and collectively with every major country in the world...The Democratic team now has onboard...one of the most qualified people in the country to help lead that effort from the White House, which is where it must be lead from."

Or, you can hear it from Biden himself, "I would be most capable of getting this country back into an international climate regime, getting us back to the table the fastest and with the most prospect for success, because of my extensive engagement in foreign policy...To deal with global warming, you have to change the attitude of the world, particularly China and India, the two largest developing nations. But in order to do that, to have any credibility, you have to begin here in the United States by capping emissions, increasing renewable fuels, establishing a national renewable portfolio standard, requiring better fuel economy for automobiles."

When it comes to energy issues, global warming and the environment, John McCain used to seem like at least a decent moderate choice. Fortunately for swing voters concerned about these issues, he's making the decision making process a lot easier by showing that his true loyalties lie more closely with his special interest supporters than the American people. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has proven his commitment to addressing these issues with his selection of a running mate with a long-standing, positive, environmental record.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ditch the Lawn and Ditch Summer Mowing.

(I actually wrote most of this post a week ago but got sidetracked and didn't post it until now).
The past week, I’ve been visiting my parents back up in Northern Minnesota and helping them out with some work around the house. This of course, meant getting reacquainted with my childhood enemy, the Toro lawnmower. Growing up, my brother and I used to hate mowing the lawn-we had a pretty decent sized lawn to tackle and thought we’d much rather be playing soccer on our lawn than trimming it. While I’m still not a fan, the good news is that my parents have expanded their garden so much since my siblings and I moved out that it takes about half the time it used to.

Anyways, this got me to thinking again about the environmental impacts and implications of lawns in America and all the great alternatives to cookie-cutter lawns that exist out there. If being more green, saving money on mowers, maintenance and gas, or avoiding the weekly summer mow interest you, then read on!

I’ll begin with a quick bit from grist.org about the environmental impacts of lawns in America:
“First of all, lawns are an environmental nightmare. Lawns are America's single largest irrigated crop. They cover over 49,000 square miles, three times the area covered by corn, the next biggest crop. (By contrast, concentrated solar power plants covering an area 1/6 that size could provide 100 percent of U.S. electricity.) They drink up between 30 and 60 percent of urban freshwater and are doused with more than $5 billion in fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and $700 million in synthetic pesticides a year (numbers as of 1993; hard to find anything more recent, but we can assume those numbers have gotten much larger via the housing boom). Most of the water and fertilizers are wasted through poor doseage and timing; both wash into overburdened sewage systems. America's lawnmowers burn 800 million gallons (and spill more than an Exxon Valdez's worth) of gas a year in horribly
inefficient engines, producing up to 5 percent of total U.S. air pollution.
So anything that can replace lawns -- drought resistant landscaping, stones or gravel, or, yes, a food garden -- is a blessing.”-David Roberts, Grist columnist.

That said, what are some other options for lawn-care? Here are a few things you can do to reduce your impact while mowing or options for lawn replacement.
Option A:
Replace it. There are many things you can replace your lawn with: a vegetable garden, flower garden an orchard, native grasses, a stone paths, butterfly gardens, moss, etc. Anything that reduces the amount of surface area you have to mow will be a benefit in many ways. My parents have successfully cut out probably 40% of our lawn’s surface area and replaced it with strawberry and blueberry plants, numerous vegetable plots, flowers, trees, bushes and other shrubs. If you take the gardening route, obviously this has numerous other benefits: including having fresh, locally produced, produce right in your backyard.
-Moss also makes an excellent, very low maintenance option as well: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/garden/01moss.html?_r=1&ex=1210305600&en=93604bf920ba0613&ei=5070&emc=eta1&oref=slogin
-Or try a Raingarden: http://sustainablecommunitysolutions.com/2008/07/30/of-rain-barrels-and-rain-gardens/

*Here’s a few suggestions for how to get rid of the old grass before replacing: http://www.grist.org/advice/ask/2002/09/19/umbra-lawnkill/index.html

Option B: Keep it, but green it: Okay, there’s a reason why so many Americans love lawns, and realistically for many of us they aren’t going anywhere. Especially for those who have no public parks nearby for their kids or pets to run around in. But, at least reduce your lawns nasty impact. Here’s a few things to do: Reduce the frequency of your mowing. Use a push mower if you have a smaller lawn. Lay off the pesticides. Don’t water: this will simply make your lawn grow faster and force you to cut it more quickly. If you’re in a dry climate, let your lawn grow out longer to prevent burning and browning.

All right, that’s it for my rant on lawns. The next post will probably be a little less practical and a little more political.

Friday, August 15, 2008

End of the Internship

Well, my seven and a half week stint with the Center for Sustainable Living officially ended earlier this month. It went by extremely quickly, and I found that it is very difficult to jump in and try to tackle large projects in a new community. Over the summer, I had a successful crash-course in small-time community organization and advocacy, building many connections with community members and learning much about local politics, the environmental blogosphere and community living. I learned that what sounds good on paper or works in one community oftentimes meets roadblocks and delays along the way. Unfortunately, with the short time-line we had, even small delays could sideline entire projects.

Therefore, we didn’t fully accomplish several of the community projects I had hoped to, but I've had the chance to get the ball rolling on several projects that have been researched and can be pursued in the future. Some of the projects still in the making include: Pedestrian Only Street Days (which was greeted with both excitement and skepticism from community members and which we decided a better goal for this would be the summer of 2009 rather than 2008 since there is much organizational and advocacy work to be done for this) a free school, where environmental workshops could be taught to interested community members, and several composting projects, including holding a community compost bin sale and continuing to guide Bridgewater Elementary School on their goal of teaching their kids to separate and compost their food waste at school.

I'm hoping to follow up on Pedestrian Only Street Days throughout the school year and hopefully it can kick off the following summer. The goal of this is to get people outside, to build social capital and community well-being, and to promote non-motorized types of transportation. If realized, it would consist of blocking off a section of downtown Northfield (on Division from 2nd-5th Street) to automobile traffic on a monthly, bi-monthly or weekly basis during the summers. Basically: More walking, more talking, less driving. I envision live music, street vendors, sidewalk dining, maybe some of kind of themed workshops on biking, pedestrian safety, etc. on Thursday evenings. Other cities (Toronto, Bogota) have had a lot of success with similar programs and I could see it being a huge hit in Northfield, but there's still a lot of organizing work to do. Even NYC has been trying this out with a huge chunk of Manhattan: . And so has San Fransisco: http://carfreeusa.blogspot.com/2008/08/come-out-to-play-in-san-francisco.html

The internship overall was a great experience. I learned an incredible amount about a wide range of topics and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity and freedom to pursue many different projects. Thanks especially to the CSL, Nate, Kris and Scott for that. I've decided to keep this blog-at least for now. I'm gonna to write in it as often and for as long as I feel is possible into the school year as long as people are reading it and finding it somewhat useful or enjoyable. From this point on I'm going to be writing almost entirely about whatever environmental and politic issues are pertinent or related things that come to my mind. Hope it's enjoyable!