November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Celebration

As we prepare our thanksgiving meal for tomorrow, I wonder how it has come to seem normal that we celebrate the miracle of what we have been given through the bounty of the earth, by consuming 2 to 3 times what we really need.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our Thanksgiving traditions.  We should be able to find ways to have a joyous celebration of thanksgiving without the focus being on loading the table with more than anyone could ever eat. 

November 19, 2009

Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification

This groundbreaking NRDC documentary explores the startling phenomenon of ocean acidification, which may soon challenge marine life on a scale not seen for tens of millions of years. The film, featuring Sigourney Weaver, originally aired on Discovery Planet Green.

November 16, 2009

Interfaith Power and Light

"The faith community must be heard, now is the time for people of faith to take a moral stand to save our planet." –Reverend Canon Sally G. Bingham, president and founder of The Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power & Light. 

I attended a talk given by Rev. Bingham on October 24th in Framingham at the Massachusetts Council of Churches annual meeting. 

She said that evening, "The common ground we all share is the earth itself. War, terrorism, and poverty all pale in comparison to the threat from climate change." 

She asked us to think of the person we love the most in the world. 

She gave us a moment to envision ourselves with that person.  

Then she asked us to imagine that we'd just been told that person was severely ill, but that the doctor recommended waiting 3 years before starting treatment. 

What would be your response?  She asked... 

IP&L defines itself as "a national religious response to global warming, promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation." Its enrolled 10,000 congregations cover 30 states. Its five year goal is to have 30,000 congregations in all fifty states.
IP&L's efforts combine the power of the pulpit and practical support. From the pulpit rabbis, ministers, priest and imams are delivering a call to action for people of faith to defend God's green earth. IP&L provides guest ministers, priests, rabbis or imams to address a congregation on issues of faith and individual environmental responsibility. 
I highly recommend her book, Love God, Heal Earth

It consists of 21 short and inspiring essays from rabbis to evangelicals to Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists each contributing an original essay-chapter, with personal stories of awakening to the urgent need for environmental awareness and action.
IP&L is fighting the inclusion of public policy supportive of coal-fired power plants in the emerging climate change bill. On its website  you can download their legislative factsheets and priorities.
The IP&L's practical actions are focused upon helping the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and its members use energy more efficiently. It has a website called ShopIPL that offers information and price discounts on Energy Star appliances, higher efficiency lighting and water conservation technology. It provides case study examples and suggestions–ranging from installing roof top solar power to car pooling to church–on how congregations and their members are adopting sustainable practices.
Rev. Bingham summarizes, "Its time we start using the energy from heaven like solar, wind and the human spirit for doing right to save God's green earth."

Graphic Depiction of Climate Change

This graphic from NOAA showing where the world is getting hotter and cooler may provide a bit of an explanation why Americans are less likely to believe in climate change than the rest of the world. 

November 13, 2009

Busa Farms Meeting

I attended the informational meeting regarding Busa Farms that was organized by the Lexington Farm Coalition or

The Town of Lexington recently purchased the Busa Farms land at 52 Lowell Street in Lexington. You can read about the history of Busa Farms here

The Town of Lexington will be leasing the land back to the Busa family for the next two years while plans are made for how the land will be used. A number of proposals have been made to convert the land into a parking lot, soccer fields and affordable housing. No decisions have been made yet. 

This meeting was an informational meeting to provide information on ways that the land could be used as a community farm. Representatives from local community farms gave brief presentations on how their community farms were started and how their farms operate today.

Peter Barrer,
Angino Farm, Newton
Samuel Robinson,
Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham
Jim Whitehead,
Wright-Locke Farm, Winchester
Verena Wieloch,
Gaining Ground, Concord

We also heard from :

Ben Bowell, 
American Farmland Trust an organization dedicated to preserving farmland. They handed out bumper stickers that said. No Farms, No Food. 

The message from all the speakers is that we need local farms. There is tremendous demand for locally grown food. Business is booming and growing rapidly at all the farms. What other business can make that claim in this economic environment. Here are a couple facts and figures from the presentations. 

A Cornell University study found that it takes 0.44 acres of land per person to provide a low-fat, vegetarian diet. We have only 518,000 acres of farmland in Massachusetts and 6.5 million residents. That's 0.08 acres per person. 

Everyone of the speakers offered their support and assistance in helping Lexington start a community garden. 

Waltham Fields sells 350 summer shares of their produce and sold all of their shares in January.  Angino Farms said that they sold out all of their shares in two days. In addition, Angino Farm, Waltham Fields, and Gaining Ground all said that they were swamped with volunteer labor. Each of these organizations makes education of the local community a key part of their mission. Wright-Locke Farm has just been purchased by Winchester in the last year and is still getting organized as a community farm. 

Angino Farms donates 10% of their produce to local food pantries. Waltham Fields donates 20% of their produce or about 20,000 lbs. to local charities. Gaining Ground donates all of their organic produce to local charities. This is about 30,000 lbs. of produce. 

Angino Farms is about 5 years old. They have hired a farmer (with a family) who lives on the land as well as another hired hand. The financial model is working well. They have enough money to be investing in improving the buildings and equipment. He said that a key to convincing the town of Newton to proceed with the project was that they secured pledges in advance from community members that they would buy the CSA shares if the town approved the farm. This convinced the town members that the farm would be financially viable. 

Waltham Fields leases the land and buildings. They also generate revenue from about 25 grants, most of which are in the $1K - $2K range provided from local family foundations. The average age of a farmer in the US is 55. They conduct farmer training programs in addition to operating the farm in order to train a new generation of farmer who knows how to grow organic food locally and sustainably. They are certified organic. . 

Verena from Gaining Ground said that the new face of farming is young, educated and female. She said that she is swamped with volunteers and attributes it to their commitment to inclusiveness and the idea that real work is real fun. They don't turn anyone away who wants to volunteer and all volunteers do real work that needs to be done to produce the food they grow. If you have back problems, we can have you sort seeds, if you have a child with ADHD, we have lots of shovels and plenty of earth that needs to be moved. No one gets left behind. Gaining Ground has 7 acres in Lincoln. She said that finding farmland is the hardest part of her job. Once a farm has been converted to another use, it is incredibly difficult to bring that land back as a farm. 

She concluded her talk with some advice from her 80 year old grandmother. She said that farms are a lot like teeth. Take care of them now, because you'll miss them when they are gone. 

If you are interested in helping or in following the progress made by the Lexington Farm Coalition, stop by the website where you can find links that will allow you to connect using Facebook, Twitter, Google groups, or RSS feeds. 

Recycling goes from less waste to zero waste

The New York Times reports, that across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as zero waste is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations. 

... at eight of its North American plants, Honda is recycling so diligently that the factories have gotten rid of their trash Dumpsters altogether.

But places like the island resort community of Nantucket offer a glimpse of the future. Running out of landfill space and worried about the cost of shipping trash 30 miles to the mainland, it moved to a strict trash policy more than a decade ago, said Jeffrey Willett, director of public works on the island.

The town, with the blessing of residents concerned about tax increases, mandates the recycling of not only commonly reprocessed items like aluminum, glass and paper but also tires, batteries and household appliances.

Mr. Willett said that while the amount of trash that island residents carted to the dump had remained steady, the proportion going into the landfill had plummeted to 8 percent. By contrast, Massachusetts residents as a whole send an average of 66 percent of their trash to a landfill or incinerator.
When apple cores, stale bread and last week's leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients they pulled from the soil while growing. What is more, when sealed in landfills without oxygen, organic materials release methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, as they decompose. If composted, however, the food can be broken down and returned to the earth as a nonchemical fertilizer with no methane by-product.

Powerful speech by Entergy CEO

Participants in a Clean Energy Economy Forum at the White House included J. Wayne Leonard, the Chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation, the utility giant based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Speaking at the White House event, Leonard called for action on climate change and clean energy not just for economic reasons but starkly moral ones:

We are virtually certain that climate change is occurring, and occurring because of man's activities. We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad. There's no good things that's going to come of this. But what's uncertain is exactly which one of those things are going to occur and in what time frame. In the probability distribution curve is about a 50% probability that about half of all species will become extinct or be subject to extinction over this period of time.What we will never know on an ex ante basis is whether or not man be one of those casualties or not.
We condemn Wall Street for taking risks with our economy — risks that all of you are trying very hard to reverse — but at the same time we're taking exactly the same kind of risks, with no upside whatsoever, with regard to our climate, failing to practice even the basic risk management techniques in terms of climate change reduction.
In a powerful speech, Leonard called a national system to cap carbon pollution "an investment that by all facts, figures and analysis pays back many times over," and warned that "history will judge us if we don't pass comprehensive climate and energy reform now" for "cheating [our children] out of their future."
Entergy serves "two-and-a-half million customers in the mid-South and the Gulf South portion of the country, some of the poorest people in the country," Leonard noted. These customers already suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which global warming likely fueled.

Air Force Advocates Environmental Stewardship

A solar-energy array at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, is saving money for the Air Force and decreasing the service's reliance on fossil fuels. "The military, perhaps better than anyone, is bound and determined to be good stewards of the incredible natural resources we have in this country," said Air Force Col. Dave Belote, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis, in an October 8th interview on the Pentagon Channel podcast "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military."

The solar array, which debuted as North America's largest renewable venture in December 2007, is composed of more than 72,000 solar panels containing 6 million solar cells, and represents an enormous step toward energy efficiency, Belote said. It supplies 28 percent of the base's power, saving about $83,000 a month and 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the colonel said. "It's really an exciting thing to be a part of," he added.

Non CO2 Solutions to Climate Change

Reducing non-CO2 climate change agents such as black carbon soot, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as well as expanding bio-sequestration, can forestall fast approaching abrupt climate changes, according to Nobel Laureate Mario Molina, a researcher at UC San Diego, and co-authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

The paper's authors said that pursuing these solutions could change the character of a United Nations conference on climate change taking place in December in Copenhagen.

"Cutting HFCs, black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and methane can buy us about 40 years before we approach the dangerous threshold of 2°C (3.6°F) warming," said co-author Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. 

100 Places to Remember

It is the connection to the Earth we each share, for better or worse, that inspired Søren Rud to organize  100 Places to Remember Before They Disappeara photo exhibition recently opened in Copenhagen. Meant as an inspiration for "the common person," 100 Places is also a call to action for world leaders as they soon converge on the city to negotiate a climate treaty at the COP15 Climate Conference this December (and what inspires this post on Blog Action Day).

The idea is to "do the opposite that the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] does," says Rud. "They put all the facts and scientific information in a big report that is very difficult to read, we explain for ordinary people what is at stake. By communicating directly to people on the street, we want to touch their emotions and sharpen their awareness on the impacts of climate change. Only if people know what's at risk, are they willing to act."

Food for Thought

In a report titled The Cheeseburger Footprint, Jamais Cascio estimates that the average cheeseburger generates between 6.3 to 6.8 pounds of CO2 emissions.  He references Fast Food Nation, among other sources, to approximate the number of cheeseburgers consumed per American annually- roughly 150.  Multiply that by a population 300,000,000, and the resulting collective carbon footprint of the American appetite for cheeseburgers is (conservatively) 195,750,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (remember cows create methane which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2).
Cascio goes on to calculate the global warming impact of driving SUVs in comparison to eating cheeseburgers.  He concludes, "the greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs. There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US."
Here's some food for thought: all things considered, our food choices may be as important, if not more, than our transportation choices when it comes to climate change. 

CO2 Levels highest in 15 million years

"A slightly shocking finding," Tripati added, "is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different."
Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new.
"During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today," Tripati said. "Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount." "...the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland," said the paper's lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences."
Tripati's new chemical technique has an average uncertainty rate of only 14 parts per million.
"We can now have confidence in making statements about how carbon dioxide has varied throughout history," she said.

Duke Energy and FPL to switch to electric vehicles

The US electric vehicle market received a major boost late last week, when two of the country's largest energy firms announced that they were to switch their entire vehicle fleet over to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles over the next 10 years.
FPL Group and Duke Energy said that by 2020 they would transition their entire fleets - totalling over 10,000 vehicles - over to low carbon models, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 125,000 metric tons in the process.
The companies said they were currently looking for suppliers to come forward with proposals on which vehicles they should purchase. "The more organisations that join this initiative, the more we can develop a sustainable transportation future," said Lew Hay, chief executive of FPL.
The two firms said plans to purchase electric or plug in hybrid passenger vehicles and smaller trucks were already underway, adding that they now intend to work closely with manufacturers to test and measure the effectiveness of prototype electric trucks from 2011.
Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, said that the high profile commitment would provide auto firms with the guaranteed demand they need to step up investments in electric vehicles.
"Currently, the only near-term options for available PEV (plug in electric vehicle) supply are sedans, minivans, vans and a few bucket trucks. Over a 10-year horizon, it is expected that options will be available for most utility service categories," he said. "This commitment will provide the transportation industry the evidence that a robust market for PEVs exists."
Research from FPL suggests that electric vehicles, even if powered from a current grid mix, offer emissions reduction of up to 70 per cent over conventional vehicles.