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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable communities’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:

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I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

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Memorial Day is just about here, and summer is peaking around the corner. BBQs, tubing trips, baseball games, sleepovers, and pool parties (Hot Child in the City) are in your near future and you need a couple summer reminders. As you already know, I think everything in our environment, and all the actions we take are interconnected and affect our health and well-being and our wallet.

I came across this Top Ten List on the benefits of local food from Fox News (omg yes Fox News, everything is ok). You can find the full list here, but here are a few of my favorites:

1. Locally grown. Items at farmer’s markets have not “travelled” far. The carbon footprint to transport from nearby farms is teeny compared to what’s consumed over hundreds and thousands of miles by sea, air or long-distance trucking. Also, local produce is stacked in wooden crates, which avoids the environmentally polluting packaging, which protects produce from bruising or extends its time before perishing in long-distance transport.

2. Cleaner and safer. Farmer’s markets produce is grown organically or with far less use of chemicals. Produce sold in regular stores is full of toxic pesticides, fungicides, and other chemical fertilizers and sprays. Similarly, breads & baked goods aren’t pumped full of unhealthy preservatives that extend shelf life.

3. Keeps our communities healthy, too. The more we support local farmers who grow food in healthy ways, the more they–and their beautiful farmland–will flourish. Buying at local markets puts money directly into the pockets of local farmers and craftspeople rather than industrial conglomerates.

4. Free exercise. We can often walk or bike to the markets, getting free exercise. Besides, simply walking in the open air is a good way to get vitamin D.

Lastly, on biking and how it does a body good (which I’m sure you’re in the know about), D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare company released the results of its recent membership survey.  I admit I have a love affair with Capital Bikeshare; although its riders may be nuts, I appreciate what the company has accomplished (remember when I posted about Capital Bikeshare last year?). Riders saved an estimated $800 on transportation costs annually!  After obtaining a membership they were 76% more likely to ride to work.  Membership is still mostly within D.C., and now the company hopes to expand to areas like the Anacostia (Northeast D.C.) so that those neighborhoods can see the health benefits as well.  All communities should have access to safe and healthy transportation options.

Here is a summary of a few of the health benefits from the bikeshare survey: “Nearly 27 percent reported improved stamina after joining the system, 31.5 percent said their stress levels diminished, and 18.4 percent reported losing weight thanks to bicycle sharing. The numbers of members who consider themselves in good or excellent condition increased, while figures for those who consider themselves in poor, average, or fair health decreased.”  You can read the full article here.

Enjoy those tasty local foods, and bike/walk/public transit more. Cheers.

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I appreciate the recent blog post by the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. First, because it is outgoing Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recap on her top priority while she was at EPA and second, because it pays homage to a great community leader.  Though I may not be the protesting type, I strongly support those who organize and stand up for fair treatment, which all U.S. citizens deserve.  When it comes to environmental protection I support those who stand up for fair treatment even more.

In her final video message, Lisa Jackson spoke about the work of Hazel Johnson.  A founder of a Chicago nonprofit called “People for Community Recovery”, Hazel Johnson was often called the “Mother of Environmental Justice.”  If you’re new to the term of environmental justice (you haven’t been reading my old posts) it typically refers to the fair and equal treatment of all races so that people do not bare disproportionate environmental impacts such as air, water, and soil pollution.

During Lisa Jackson’s term as Administrator I too have seen a renewed focus on environmental justice.  The EPA Office of Environmental Justice released Plan EJ 2014, and 17 federal agencies have continually met to form the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.  I presume Hazel would have been very supportive of Lisa Jackson’s work on EJ, but still concerned that these issues are ongoing.  Hazel coined the term “toxic donut” a term referring to encircling industries that were polluting in her Chicago neighborhood.  Lisa Jackson saw (as did I during my undergraduate degree) a similar pattern in Cancer Alley, a stretch of industries from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; many of these types of patterns are all across the U.S. from Texas to California to New Jersey.

Hazel’s top priority was for communities to be brought to the decision table when siting industrial facilities.  To me that seems like common sense. Sometimes that’s not the case and many community residents are ignored. But progress has been made and toxic sites have been cleaned up, so that should be applauded.  However the work is never done.  Not until Americans take a strong unified stance on how they use and obtain energy.  Open conversations about consumption and energy sources are the only ways to prevent things that Hazel and Lisa have so commonly seen.  You can see the EPA Blog post and video here.

A few weeks ago, the largest environmental march to date was organized in Washington D.C.; it was a march from the Washington Monument to the White House to tell President Obama to deny the Keystone Pipeline and reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was organized by the Sierra Club and many local environmental groups across the nation.  I wanted to see it for my own eyes so I braved the cold and watched for 30 minutes.  The march was organized and civil, and many had signs to reject the Pipeline.  After the State Department’s release of a draft environmental impact statement, I don’t think pro-enviros are too happy.  I took a couple photos just so you could feel like you were there:

"Obama how dare you frack your momma" - said the crowd

“Obama how dare you frack your momma” – said the crowd

En route to the Washington Monument

En route to the Washington Monument

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

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News flash – New Yorkers (NY-ers) live longer than the U.S.’ national average life span.  Men’s Health reported that the average life span of a NY-er is 80.6 years, that’s three years longer than the U.S. national average.  Most importantly, between 1989 and 2009, the NY-er life span grew by 13 years!

Recall Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban this year?

He might have been onto something.  Studies have shown that consumption of sugary beverages lead to greater risks of heart attacks (yikes!) Mayor Bloomberg also supported the calorie count display in public restaurants, so you are constantly reminded that a Big Mac and fries tally well over 1,000 calories.  The Men’s Health article also highlighted that cities with more bike lanes have more people who are likely to bike to work (if you build it they will come!).

I saw a piece a while back on NBC Nightly News that more outdoor gyms, or adult playgrounds as they’re calling them, are popping up in major cities, allowing adults to stay in shape free of charge.  Here’s the video.

Lastly, just this week the Washington Post commuter paper reported the findings of a study, first of its kind, that junk food laws can curb childhood obesity.  Some call all of these bans/proposals an intrusion in our lives; but, if we’re living longer, healthier and happier lives, and living in better communities, what’s so controversial about that? Have a great week. Cheers.

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Just 3 days. I haven’t seen my favorite Texas country star, Pat Green, since Mardi Gras last year in New Orleans; so before I talk about anything I think you should take a listen.

What I really meant was only 3 days till the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics!  London’s mayor has viewed the Olympics as an opportunity to transcend neighborhoods into sustainable communities for other countries to emulate.  The London 2012 Sustainability Plan highlights how London has aimed to host the most sustainable Games ever. The London Sustainability Plan focused on five key themes: climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion (new local employment and business opportunities), and healthy living. The Guardian UK reported on how the Games would focus on the key themes.

Look at this GREAT list of what London has done so far:

  • The Velodrome is almost 100 per cent naturally ventilated and uses natural light to reduce energy consumption and rain water will be collected from the roof for flushing toilets and irrigation.
  • The Olympic Stadium’s roof was made out of unwanted gas pipelines.
  • Water used to clean the swimming pool filters in the Aquatics Centre will be recycled for toilet flushing.
  • The foundations for venues and roads have used recycled materials and many of the venues and bridges will have green habitat spaces incorporated into walls and roofs.
  • Over 100 hectares of new parklands for people and wildlife with over 4,000 trees and over 300,000 wetland plants.
  • 100 per cent of spectators arriving at the Games by public transport or by walking or cycling.
  • Improvements to 80km of cycling and walking routes to the Olympic Park and just under 6,000 temporary bike parking spaces during the Games.

Congrats to London, and I hope you enjoy the green Games. Cheers.

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You may be over Earth Day, but here in spinach land we’re just getting started with our weeklong tribute to Earth Day.  This week we’re highlighting what we think are our planet’s greatest challenges.  I’d like to bring attention to our car-designed cities.  I haven’t owned a car for two years (some people say omg how do you live without a car?!); I find it invigorating.  Not all cities were built around a train or bus system like NY, DC, and a few others.  There are a couple DC food blogs (and perhaps other blog types too) that hype up the so-called NY-DC rivalry.  I’m sure this leaves NY-ers saying, rivalry whaaat? And DC-ers saying oh yeah the DC food scene is very up and coming.  That aside, (as my Northern Jersey roots say there’s no place like NY despite my love for the District) DC takes the cake for showing its love for…the bicycle.

A bicycle tribute to the upcoming Summer Olympics.

Just this week Wmata (Washington’s metro service) announced plans for a pilot bike & ride facility.  I love this concept, Green Light approved.  The pilot facility will be at the University of Maryland’s College Park metro station and will hold up to 100 bikes in a secure room and the cost to the cyclist, ready…2 to 5 cents per hour!  Now that’s a cheap parking garage.  DC also started the famous Capital Bikeshare which NY is starting this summer.  With bikeshare you pick up and pay as you go or have a monthly membership to bicycle all over town as much or as little as you like and then drop off the bike at the closest docking station near you (there’s an app for that).  I hope more cities do bike and ride garages; biking perks are endless – exercise (great way to clear your head), no 4.00/gallon fuel, less road rage, and clean air, it doesn’t get better than that.  So, grab a bike, take a walk, request better public transportation near you, and drive less when you can. Cheers.

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