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Many readers of The Planet blog know about the Great March for Climate Action -- an eight-month, 3,000-mile march from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to the American people and our elected leaders the need to act now to combat climate disruption.
The Great March for Climate Action commenced on March 1 with a big rally at the Port of Los Angeles with an oil refinery as the backdrop, and is scheduled to end on the National Mall in Washington on November 1, with rallies scheduled at 35 stops along the way. Marchers in the "mobile community" are welcome to join any segment of the march they wish. The next rally is scheduled for July 4 in Omaha.
At the previous stop, in Denver on June 16, more than 150 people rallied at the state capitol, marched through downtown, and gathered across the street from EPA Region 8 headquarters to hear from the regional EPA administrator about the agency's new carbon pollution standards, and concluded at a local restaurant for a symposium that addressed a wide range of issues including fracking, renewable energy, tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, transportation, and moving beyond fossil fuels.
Partner groups in the day's event included 350 Colorado, AFGE (the federal union that helps represent EPA employees), and the Citizens' Climate Lobby, among others. We'll let Denver-based Sierra Club organizer Bryce Carter pick up the story from here.
"At the capitol, our master of ceremonies and march chanter for the evening was Jonny 5, the lead singer for the Denver band Flobots. We also had DJ CAven give a great introductory performance, Our speakers included Karen Dike, the Rocky Mountain Chapter chair for the Oil and Gas Team, who spoke about the impacts of fracking in our state; Isaac Rivera with 350 Colorado, who talked about divestment from fossil fuels; and several marchers who gave passionate speeches.
"We then marched along the 16th Street Mall -- a pedestrian mall that runs the length of downtown Denver -- to the lobby of the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado Building across the street from EPA Region 8 headquarters. There, I spoke to the crowd about some of the local impacts of climate change that Colorado has felt, and the important foundation the new carbon pollution standards put forth for us in moving toward a clean energy future.
"I introduced EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath (above), who was eager to speak to the marchers and thank them for their effort and give more details on the EPA's new clean power plan. We both emphasized that the Denver hearing on the new carbon standards is a big date, and everyone should be there!"
The marchers and ralliers then moved to the Mercury Café on the other side of downtown for dinner and a symposium which had various breakout brainstorming groups, including:
Hydraulic Fracturing — Karen Dike, Sierra Club
Keystone XL & Tarsands — Isaac Rivera, 350 Colorado
Moving Beyond Fossil Fuels — Russell Mendell & Bob Castellino, ClimateColorado.org
Fossil Fuel Divestment & Reinvestment –Simón Mostafa, Fossil Free Campaign
Politics of Climate Change — Harry Hempy, activist
Environmental Law — Andrea Gelfuso, environmental lawyer
Carter, gives "a huge shout-out" to fellow Sierra Club organizers Shane Levy and Dan Schreiber, and EPA employee and AFGE local leader Dave Christenson, who helped line up EPA Administrator McGrath for the event. (That's Carter, above at center, flanked by McGrath and Christenson.) "And certainly the event wouldn't have been such a great success if it weren't for our amazing core volunteers Jodi Jones, James Luidi, James Hennessy, and Nick Anderson."
In 2007, Sierra Club member Joshua Horwitz traveled with his 13-year-old daughter Julia to one of the last pristine whale lagoons on the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico. The experience so moved the Washington, D.C.-based writer that for the next seven years he immersed himself in what he describes as a "fascinating and bottomless" study of whales and their struggle for survival.
The result is War of the Whales, to be published on July 1 by Simon & Schuster. War of the Whales is a true story of how a whale researcher and an environmental lawyer took on the world's most powerful navy after they both stumbled on evidence linking sonar exercises to mass strandings of whales. Their fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Horwitz says that prior to seeing whales in the wild in Baja, "what I knew about whales was essentially what I'd learned in Mr. Biggs's fifth grade biology class: that they were mammals who had once lived on land." But seeing and touching the whales and their newborn calves was an utterly transforming experience for Horwitz and his daughter.
"Every winter, the gray whales return to this lagoon to give birth to their calves, suckle them, and head out for their months-long journey to the Bering Sea, where they have their winter feeding grounds," Horwitz says in this short video.
"We went out on these tiny boats, and there's a remarkable phenomenon in this whale lagoon where the mother whales and their calves actually approach you in these boats, to the point where you can actually reach out and touch them and run your hands through the baleen in their mouth."
"The experience of that kind of contact with wild whales is just indescribable," Horwitz says. "And once you've had that experience, it changes the way you think about these animals. Having that experience and looking at my 13-year-old daughter's response to these animals, particularly in the presence of a mother and a calf, I just felt that I had to do something, and as a writer I decided to try to tell the story of this generation of whales and what they've struggled with for survival."
Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. "The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change."
Above, environmental attorney Joel Reynolds and whale researcher Ken Balcomb, the book's two main protagonists. Below, Horwitz and Balcomb at Balcomb's research station on San Juan Island, Washington.
The Planet talked with Horwitz last week about his newfound fascination with "nature's experiment in gigantism" and War of the Whales.
Planet: This book took you seven years to research and write. Were you starting from scratch learning about whales, or have they long interested you? I remember hearing the rallying cry, "Save the Whales," when I was a college student in the 1970s.
Horwitz: Looking back, it's honestly appalling to me how little I knew at the outset about whales, the ocean, the U.S. Navy, and environmental law. What I knew about whales was essentially what I'd learned in Mr. Biggs's fifth grade biology class: that they were mammals who had once lived on land. The idea that they were nature’s experiment in gigantism, and that they reverse migrated into the ocean was intriguing. But beyond that, they were pretty much a blank slate for me -- which surprisingly is the case for many people who have never seen them in the wild. It wasn’t until I visited a gray whale lagoon in Baja seven years ago that I lit up inside around whales, which is another through theme of my book: even "objective" scientists couldn’t study these animals for long without being touched in a deep place.
Of course, the Save the Whales movement was on my screen when I was in college in the 1970s -- I remember that ABC’s Wide World of Sports actually featured Greenpeace’s high-seas chase after whaling ships as part of their Saturday afternoon offering! But living on the East Coast at the time, mostly in New York City, it was in the background, rather than the foreground. The character from my book who made the biggest impression on my youth was John Lilly, the NIH neuroscientists who became a leading navy-funded dolphin research, before liberating this research subjects in the late '60s and helping to instigate the Save the Whales movement. By the time I was reading Lilly’s books in the '70s, he had moved on from dolphins to isolation tanks and psychedelic meditations on the human brain as bio-computer. My sophomore year in college, my inner circle was reading Lilly’s The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space.
Planet: What prompted you to devote half a dozen years to telling this particular story?
Horwitz: I had no idea this was going to turn into such a long-term research and writing project. Like any other author, I'm cautious about diving into a book, because I know how hard it is to bring any subject alive on the page, and to get it "right" in some meaningful way. The first I’d heard about the story was a newspaper article about an environmental lawyer suing the Navy over sonar’s impact on whales. The headline: "Navy v. Whales" read like a divorce proceeding -- which in fact it was in many ways. What first intrigued me about the story, once I dug into the history, was that the Navy had fallen under the spell of whales and dolphins way back in the late '50s and early '60s, when they first discovered that they echolocated in water in much the way that bats did in air -- with sound. At the time, the only people who cared about "saving the whales" were whalers, who were frantically trying to figure out how to revive the whale stocks that had crashed in the 1940s after decades of over-fishing. In the 1960s, the Navy single-handedly gave birth to the scientific discipline of marine mammal science and cetology. They launched an intensive investigation into whale biosonar, communication and even hydrodynamics that they applied to their own search after Soviet submarines during the Cold War. The Navy continues to be far and away the largest funder or whale research in the world. One of the dramatic pivot points in the book is the conflict of conscience in the scientific community -- they had to decide whether to bear witness, in their published research and in court, to the sometime lethal impact of navy sonar or to heed their natural fear of biting the hand that fed their research careers: the Office of Navy Research.
Planet: Were you aware of the mass stranding of beaked whales in the Bahamas when it occurred in March 2000, or did it come to your attention later on?
Horwitz: That stranding, which was the first well-documented case of navy sonar driving whales onto beaches, didn’t register with me at the time, though it was also the first mass stranding that was reported in the mainstream press at the time. The first time I heard and read anything about it was in 2003, when NRDC first sued the Navy over Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar.
Planet: In the book, the U.S. Navy faces off against whale researchers, environmental attorneys, and environmental activists, yet you write about the key players on both sides with what seems like great respect. Are there good guys and bad guys in this story?
Horwitz: While there are clearly some heroes in this story -- particularly the environmental attorney and the field biologist who witnessed the Bahamas stranding and became a reluctant whistleblower -- I don’t find any villains. This is a story about the clash of two mission-driven cultures who both cared deeply about the oceans and whales, but for opposing reasons. I knew next to nothing about the Navy and its culture before I reported this book. I came away with a deep respect for the Navy characters I came to know -- particularly the retired Admirals who gave me a lot of access and insight into what was driving their decisions at the time. These officers make incredible sacrifices, even if they’re serving during peacetime. Once main character in my book moved his family 22 times over the course of his 35-year naval career -- and this is typical of a navy officer’s life. And he was so poorly paid that he struggled to send his kids to college.
In fact, the antagonists in this story had more traits in common than not: they were all highly committed and intelligent; none of them had chosen their career paths -- or this fight -- for either money or power. They were true believers, but their particular belief structures were sometimes in direct opposition: conservation vs. homeland security -- and the scientists were caught in the middle.
Planet: It's ironic that the whale researcher who became "the reluctant whistle-blower" had spent eight years as a naval officer. So a subplot of War of the Whales is an internal face-off taking place within one individual, is it not?
Horwitz: Ken Balcomb is the pivotal character in the book, and to me the most intriguing. Even though he’d spent most of his life "in service" -- first in the US Navy and later as field researcher trying to conserve endangered species of whales -- he's shied away from public controversies. Until the day he found himself at ground zero of the biggest multi-species mass stranding of whale ever recorded. Once he documented the event -- first by videotaping the incident and then by collecting and preserving forensic evidence from the whales themselves (that would be by cutting off their heads and dragging them into a large freezer) -- he was drawn into an agonizing contest of loyalties: between the oath of secrecy he'd taken to the Navy during his years of classified sonar work, and his commitment to the whales he’d been studying for a decade in the Bahamas and the Pacific Northwest. For all his tenacious commitment to a twenty-year lawsuit against the Navy, the environmental attorney (Joel Reynolds) had less at stake personally when they both decided to take on the world's most powerful Navy.
Planet: How much time did you spend "in the field" researching whale behavior and naval surveillance practices in the process of writing War of the Whales?
Horwitz: The research was fascinating and bottomless, taking me from international science conferences in locales like Cape Town, South Africa to field stations in Hawaii, the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, Baja, and the Bahamas. I visited Navy dolphin trainers in San Diego, marine mammal researchers at Scripps in La Jolla, in Santa Cruz, in Woods Hole, and even in College Station, Texas. I eventually gained entrance to high-security Navy facilities, such as the Navy Research Lab in Washington, D.C., and the Navy Academy in Annapolis -- which has been pretty much in lock-down since 9/11. And part of any author's "field research" is the libraries and archives where many of the really juicy bits are buried.
Planet: Without giving away the ending of the book, what do you think has changed between March 2000 and today in terms of protecting whales from the types of sonic assaults that drove them ashore that week in the Bahamas?
Horwitz: One of the themes that emerges from the character and events in my book is that the fight for conservation -- whether to protect an endangered species or threatened environment, never really ends. Any victory simply earns you the right to fight another day. The legal battle over Navy sonar continues today, with several active cases brought recently by NRDC and Earthjustice, with multiple co-plaintiffs, to block sonar training exercises in its California and Hawaii ranges. Over the past two decades there have been shifts in momentum between the contestants in terms of the outcomes in court. And of course, there is an ongoing, parallel battle being contested in the court of public opinion.
But if you step back and look at the net change in the way the Navy now operates, at least in U.S. waters, the changes have been are profound. As recently as the late '90s, the Navy operated with no accountability to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, or any other of the major conservation laws first passed in the early ‘70s. Particularly during the Cold War, all its high-intensity sound experiments and sonar exercises were conducted in secret, with no transparency, no environmental assessments, no safeguards.
Today, after a series of courtroom losses, the Navy has committed to conducting comprehensive Environmental Impact Statements for sonar trainings on all its U.S. coastal ranges. There is still a lot of debate, much in public forums and in legal proceedings, over risk mitigation having to do with geographic and seasonal exclusions. But compared to how the Navy operated twenty years ago, it's night and day.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the Navy sonar training on international ranges, where they still don’t conduct rigorous environmental assessments, and where strandings are still occurring. Just this past April, five beaked whales stranded on the coast of Crete during joint sonar excercises involving the U.S., Greek and Israeli navies. This was the fourth recorded stranding event during naval exercises in those same waters, so they should have known better than to be operating there. In the end, it comes down to a vigilant public holding the Navy accountable, both domestically and internationally.
Planet: What do you hope the telling of this story will accomplish?
Horwitz: For me, this story is only partly about naval sonar and whales. At heart it addresses the question of what makes an effective change agent? My two protagonists -- the environmental attorney and the marine biologist-- are in many ways polar opposites. The lawyer is an institutional player who works inside the system in collaboration with other organizations and activists, with scientists and celebrities; whatever will get the job done. The whale scientist is a true maverick who’s never had any institutional affiliation, and who's not very good a working collaboratively. One's an extrovert, and the other's an introvert who seems to enjoy the company of whales over humans.
But they share several important traits that make them highly effective when it comes to forcing change. They’re both tenacious and totally committed to the fighting the fight for as long as it takes -- often at a cost to their personal lives. They don’t allow cynicism to erode their fundamental idealism or sense of purpose -- which is a big challenge in a field like environmental law where you’re typically outgunned by deep-pocketed adversaries or facing judicial panels who defer to the military, especially during wartime. Tenacity, it turns out, is as important as intelligence or tactical decisions when it comes to fights over threatened species and environments. By the end of the book, their antagonists at the Navy, at the regulatory agencies, and on Capitol Hill have long ago cycled out of service and into other careers. But Balcomb and Reynolds are still at it, still fighting for the whales.
Planet: Do you think "acoustic ecology," as some have termed it, should get more attention within the environmental movement?
Horwitz: Ocean noise pollution is a huge threat to all forms of marine life. But because it's invisible and occurs under water, it's a difficult problem to educate people about or focus people's attention. Noise from international shipping and oil gas exploration, even more than military sonar, has made the oceans increasingly noisy environments. And the science emerging in recent years has begun to quantify the costs to marine mammals and other marine life, including fish and even coral. Marine mammals are fundamentally acoustic animals, so ocean noise is can make it difficult for them to communicate, to find mates, to forage for food, and to avoid predators. And it’s putting alarming reproductive pressure on some endangered species.
Last week I attended an ocean conservation summit in Washington D.C., and it was notable that ocean noise wasn’t high on other participants' agenda. Partially, it's due to people's understandable focus on climate change and its impact on the oceans, primarily acidification. But it's also economic. The oil and gas and shipping industries have very powerful lobbies and very well-funded legal war chests, so trying to regulate their noise pollution seems daunting. And because noise pollution is an unseen -- and by humans largely unheard -- problem, it's difficult to mobilize the public. I hope my book will go a ways to increasing public consciousness of the issue, as well as activism.
Planet: Kids are drawn to whales -- at least I sure was. Do you think this is a story that will resonate with children as well as adults?
Horwitz: I have three teenaged daughters, so I can affirm that whales have a lot of sex appeal for young people. I'm also pleased to see that environmental science has ascended to parity with chemistry and biology in many high school science curricula. While my book is pitched at adult readers, it's absolutely a good summer read for any high school student who's interested in the oceans or marine life. Amazon has short-listed War of the Whales as one of its 'best summer reads," which is about as crossover an endorsement as I could hope for.
Planet: Have you been approached yet about selling the movie rights to War of the Whales?
Horwitz: Yes. But we're still waiting for Leo.
Planet: Do you think whales are as intelligent or more intelligent than we are?
Horwitz: That's ultimately a contextual question. Whales are the Einsteins of the oceans, of marine communication and navigation. They have evolved highly complex acoustic cultures which they transmit generationally and which we can’t begin to comprehend. They've adapted to and dominated every ocean environment on the planet, and despite the ceaseless slaughter of industrial whaling, many of them have endured. So we can probably learn a lot from the whales about adaptation as we face our own struggle to survive on a planet we’ve pretty much pushed to the limit.
When it comes to assessing human intelligence, it's hard to know whether to be persuaded by the incredible innovations of technology, or the short-sighted self-interest we see everywhere in evidence, particularly in our mismanagement of the environment and our proclivity for war. If I had to cite one reason that humans have prevailed, for now, in our chronic wars against the whales, I'd point not to our brains, but to our opposable thumbs. If whales had evolved thumbs instead of flukes, who do you think would be running the planet right now? And I suspect they’d be doing a better job of it.
Want to have an amazing bicycle adventure and support the Sierra Club's work at the same time? Then Climate Ride may be just the event you've been looking for.
According to Climate Ride's website: "Climate ride is about cycling, green energy, combating climate change, promoting sustainability, meeting inspirational people doing great work in all these realms, and making lifelong friends. It's also about riding 300 miles through some of the country's most beautiful and historic regions."
The reward for this commitment is the experience of a lifetime through some of America's most beautiful landscapes. Participants meet and network with leaders in sustainability, renewable energy, and environmental causes while raising awareness about the Sierra Club's cause.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Climate Ride is the nation's largest cycling event dedicated to active transportation, sustainability, and environmental causes. The national Sierra Club is a beneficiary of this year's Climate Ride, and now is the time to register for the remaining 2014 events.
This September, Sierra Club volunteers and staff will be participating in Climate Rides in the Midwest and Northeast. (The first Climate Ride of 2014, a 250-mile ride through California wine country from San Francisco to Sacramento, took place in late May, and a 50-mile Climate Hike in Glacier National Park in August is already full.)
But there are still a few spots left in the 300-mile Midwest Ride from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago on September 6-9, and the 300-mile bike ride from NYC-DC Ride from New York City to Washington on September 20-24 if you register now.
By participating in one of these rides, you can make a difference by raising awareness about the causes you hold dear and raising funds for the Sierra Club. "The Sierra Club is excited to be partnering with Climate Ride in our fundraising efforts, and in raising awareness about climate disruption and sustainable transportation," says Jesse Simons, the Club's chief of staff who plans to participate in the NYC-DC Climate Ride. That's Simons below with daughter Eloise on California's Big Sur coast.
The start of the New York-to-DC ride is being timed to coincide with the People's Climate March on September 21 in New York City, as international delegates arrive for the September 23 U.N. Climate Summit. The People's Climate March, co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, is shaping up to be the largest-ever demonstration for climate action.
"We are excited to have the national Sierra Club join Climate Ride as a beneficiary in 2014," says Michelle Levitus, beneficiary coordinator for Climate Ride. "In the past, riders have been able to raise funds for the California and Florida chapters. This year we've added the national Sierra Club and the Club's Washington, D.C., Chapter to our exceptional list of organizations that riders can select to support while participating in any Climate Ride event."
Here are more details on the Midwest and NYC-DC Climate Rides:
Climate Ride Midwest: The Midwest ride spans three states and connects two vibrant cities, while exploring some of the best biking in the country. From the trip start in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we ride past historic lighthouses, blueberry farms, and quaint artist villages. We’ll also visit Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before pedaling on paved rail-trails to a bicycle path on Lake Michigan that affords stunning views of Chicago’s dramatic skyline. The last 6-mile stretch leads up to Grant Park -- known as “Chicago’s Front Yard” -- for the ride finale.
Climate Ride NYC-DC: The ride begins in the heart of New York City to the tip of Manhattan where a ferry that will carry us off the island and across New York Harbor to New Jersey. From there we travel along country roads passing through Princeton, near Valley Forge, into Pennsylvania Amish Country, crossing the Susquehanna River into Maryland Horse Country. After a day of pedaling past farms and silos, we reach Maryland horse country. On the fifth day, riders cycle past the iconic Washington Monument to arrive at the U.S. Capitol. A highlight of the ride is that Climate Ride arranges appointments for every rider to personally meet with her/his Congressional representative. It makes a big impression to pedal 300 miles to meet your Member of Congress.
All photos courtesy of Climate Ride.
On June 7-8, Sierra Club volunteers and staff participated in a weekend of Puerto Rican pride in New York City. On Saturday, the 116th Street Festival in East Harlem, below, kicked off the weekend's festivities with a celebration of Puerto Rican culture attended by hundreds of thousands. That's Puerto Rico Sierra Club volunteer leader Ester Perez, talking to local residents about recycling.
The following day, more than 80,000 people marched up Fifth Avenue from 44th St. to 86th St. in the annual National Puerto Rican Day parade, below. First held in 1958, the parade now attracts nearly two million spectators, making it not only one of the largest parades in New York, but one of the largest outdoor events in the U.S.
This year, 50 volunteers from the Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter teamed up with local volunteers from GrowNYC to recover 350 pounds of recycling material along the parade route before, during, and after the event. Activists with the global civic organization Avaaz marched alongside the recycling brigade, handing out literature encouraging people to get involved in decision-making on climate disruption, environmental justice, poverty, and a range of other issues.
Sierra Club volunteers collected more than 100 bags of glass, metal, and plastic, which were then separated for recycling. Once volunteers' bags were full, they weighed the bags prior to placing them curbside for collection by DSNY (the New York City Department of Sanitation).
"Two leaders from our 'sustainability team' carried hand-held scales and noted the weight of each bag as it was filled, and parade staff passed out gloves and hand sanitizer, helped volunteers weigh the full bags, and provided them with new empty ones," says Puerto Rico-based Sierra Club staffer Adriana Gonzalez, at left, the Club's lead orgnizer for the weekend's events.
Sustainability team volunteers worked from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the day of the parade, with a 45-minute check-in, breakfast, and a training session before walking to the parade entrance.
"Spectators and fellow marchers were very happy to see recycling so prominent in this year's parade," Gonzalez says. "The volunteers were well-trained, they interacted a lot with the spectators, and their efforts left people with an impression of a clean, well-planned event. I heard many people thanking our volunteers."
Above and below, sustainability team volunteers and spectators along the parade route.
The 116th Street Festival, below, held every year on the Saturday before the National Puerto Rican Day parade, is the largest Latin street festival in New York City. It began nearly 30 years ago as a one-block party, and has now grown into a 20-block celebration that stretches along 116th St. from Lexington to Second Ave., and along Third Avenue from 106th to 121st Streets.
This year's festival featured music, food, stand-up comedy, arts & crafts made by Puerto Rican artisans, a bicycle stunt show, and information booths like the one set up jointly by members of the Puerto Rico Sierra Club and GrowNYC.
"As part of the Sierra Club's Zero Waste Campaign in Puerto Rico, we partnered with GrowNYC to incorporate recycling efforts into Puerto Rico-related cultural events in New York City," says Gonzalez. "The goal this year was to bring our efforts to the Puerto Rican community in New York and gather recycling material in Sunday's big parade."
"At the 116th St. Festival we were able to educate hundreds of people about New York's recycling rules & regulations and the Sierra Club's work in Puerto Rico, and we also recruited volunteers to help in the parade recycling effort," Gonzalez says. "This year's Puerto Rican Day festivities in New York were red, white, and blue, and green all over!"
How far would you go to promote clean energy? For Matt Kearns of Long Island, the answer is 100 miles.
This past Saturday, June 14, Sierra Club member Matt Kearns took off from Montauk, at the far eastern tip of Long Island, and ran 90 miles to the Long Beach Boardwalk, just outside New York City, to draw attention to Long Island's potential to develop clean, renewable, offshore wind power off the coasts of Montauk and Long Beach. Building offshore wind capacity would create jobs, drive millions of dollars in investments to Long Island and position New York as a national leader with one of America's first offshore wind projects.
A resident of North Babylon who works for Green Homes, Kearns grew up in East Setauket on Long Island's north shore, where he was initially inspired to tackle environmental problems after a dangerous gas pipeline leak that contaminated the water under the town. More recently, his sense of urgency was bolstered by witnessing the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy, which inspired him to take action to find solutions to the climate crisis.
Kearns started working as a home energy efficiency contractor where he spent time everyday talking to Long Islanders about energy issues in their homes. At the same time, he joined the Sierra Club, where he got involved in efforts calling on Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the local utility, to invest in offshore wind power. This year, PSEG-Long Island (Public Service Electricity and Gas) along with LIPA's trustees could decide to invest in an offshore wind project proposed 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would produce enough renewable electricity to power 120,000 Long Island homes.
As an avid runner, Kearns thought there was more he could do, so he came up with the Wind 100 as a way to connect two points on Long Island with offshore wind potential and areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.
"Long Islanders know the dangers posed by climate disruption and we want to be part of the solution," he says. "We're particularly vulnerable to stronger storms and rising seas, but this unique geography also gives us access to one of the most reliable renewable energy sources in the world just off our shores. "We can be a national leader, but we need Governor Cuomo, our LIPA trustees and PSEG-Long Island to help get us there by committing to build offshore wind in New York."
At the end of his long run, Kearns was greeted by a cheering crowd of over 1,000 people at the Sierra Club's Wind 100 rally and concert.
Please support Kearns's efforts by signing this petition telling Governor Cuomo to make offshore wind a reality.
Bart Carlson is a longtime Sierra Club Outings leader with a pretty special reason why he loves leading outings so much: Because he frequently gets to do it with one or both of his sons, Zach and Bart Jr.
Bart has led rafting trips, weekend trips, and multi-day expeditions for the Sierra Club, and as a nature lover, it just made sense to teach his kids to love being outside, too.
"It's where life-long memories are made," Bart says. "What a great legacy to leave - having my children loving others and the outdoors as much as I do."
Bart's son Zach agrees about the memories. "When my brother Bart Jr. and I were young, we were so blessed to have our father slap life jackets on us and throw us into big blue boats on the river," says the 17-year-old. "To the two of us this meant a day of massive waves and fun in the water."
Over the years, Zach says his dad slowly let the two boys take on more and more responsibility, and it wasn't long before they earned their own place as Sierra Club Outings whitewater rafting guides. "I am a very blessed man and father to have such an opportunity," says Bart.
One of Bart's favorite memories of leading an outing with his sons is a recent trip on California's East Fork Carson River. They were leading a group of eight teenage boys from a center for troubled youth.
"The beauty was beyond our expectations - back-side Sierra views, hot springs, desert plateaus, and an amazing group of kids and Sierra Club Inner City Outings guides," says Bart.
Sierra Club Outings' Mel MacInnis describes it as such: "The last night of the trip, one of the group chaperones shared a great gift with Bart. Most of these boys did not know their fathers or had bad experiences with theirs. Moreover, most of the counselors at Hanna Boys Center are women, so it is rare for them to interact, play and engage with a positive 'father figure.' Bart and his son were total hits with the Hanna Boys, who got to see a positive father/son relationship, while they got some positive male attention too."
For Zach, the whitewater training and trips with his dad have been so much more than learning to be safe on the water.
"He has been guiding us through rapids ever since we were young, and more symbolically he has been guiding us through life to become young men," Zach says. "So when the question is asked, 'what's it like to serve and lead on outings with my father,' the only response I have is that it's an honor to lead beside the man whom I learned everything from."
Bart hopes to keep leading outings with his sons for many years to come. "As a father, I could not ask for a better opportunity to model to my children the impact of serving others and caring for our environment. I am a very blessed man and father to have such an opportunity."
Happy Father's Day, Bart!
Honoree Kathleen Ridihalgh brings "art, science, heart and grit" to inclusive energy coalition work
In its 33-year history, the NW Energy Coalition has honored dozens of groups and individuals for their efforts in advancing clean and affordable energy policy across the region. But it has never honored someone specifically for their on-the-ground success in mobilizing grassroots support for those policy efforts.
That glaring omission was rectified on Thursday, June 12. As part of the Coalition's 2nd annual 4 Under Forty celebration, the inaugural Doug Still Community Organizing Award was given to Kathleen Casey Ridihalgh, senior organizing manager for the Sierra Club.
"Kathleen Ridihalgh sets the standard for organizing in the public interest," said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "She represents everything that award namesake Doug Still stood for, and her years of success bear that out."
Over the past 15 years, Ridihalgh has overseen outreach efforts on many of the Northwest's most important energy, environmental and political issues, from climate change and coal exports, to clean power and transportation, to environmental and economic justice. Her accomplishments include building significant grassroots support for campaigns that have:
- Won agreements to end coal-fired electricity production in Washington and Oregon.
- Stopped three of six coal export proposals.
- Forced transportation planners to address climate concerns and incorporate public transit options in their projects.
- Made the Northwest's continued reliance on imported coal power a hot-stove topic regionally and nationally.
Through it all, Ridihalgh pushes for inclusion of all those touched by the campaigns, from electric ratepayers and taxpayers to coal-plant workers and local communities.
"Organizing is equal parts art, science, heart and grit," Ridihalgh explained. "The most rewarding times of my career have been helping folks to find their voice and realize they can make a difference against all odds. I have played just a very small part of the huge struggle for equality and justice, but all our small parts add up to great things."
She joined the Sierra Club in 1999, just in time to lead public education events around the game-changing WTO meeting in Seattle. After stepping in as the Club's acting regional director, she assumed her current position in 2006, just as the Club was joining with the Coalition and other allies to lead passage of Washington state's clean energy law, Initiative 937.
Since then, Ridihalgh commended the Coalition for creating the Doug Still Organizing Award and said she was honored to be its first recipient.
-- Meg Matthews, Sierra Club
More than 100 people turned out at an event in Jersey City, NJ, Tuesday night to support the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution safeguards.
The gathering at New Jersey City University featured a screening of the popular Showtime documentary "Years of Living Dangerously" and remarks from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
"Jersey City residents turned out in big numbers to hear Mayor Fulop talk about his support for climate action and to show their support for the carbon standard," said Christine Guhl, a Beyond Coal organizer in New Jersey. "This really highlighted the strong support New Jersey residents and students have for cutting carbon pollution."
Last week, the EPA announced the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The new standard, which is the key component of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, will start cleaning up dangerous air pollution from power plants, the industry that creates the lion's share of carbon pollution in the United States. Carbon pollution is the leading cause of climate disruption, contributing to extreme heat, flooding and superstorms in New Jersey and throughout the nation.
Guhl said the carbon standards are of particular concern to Jersey City residents because the area was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, is especially vulnerable to storm surges and flooding due to climate disruption, and is home to one of the state's last coal plants.
"We know first-hand in Jersey City the effects that climate disruption has had on our community and we commend President Obama and the EPA for this important proposal," said Mayor Fulop, pictured above with local activists. “Policies that require these industries to reduce carbon pollution will not only benefit the health and well-being of our residents, they will have lasting impact for generations to come."
A great team of volunteers helped make Tuesday's event such a success, and Guhl highlighted the very hard work of local volunteer leader Christine Wiltanger. "She tirelessly tabled and petitioned and recruited and led other volunteers to do the same. She is champ and we are so lucky to have her on our team."
Guhl says the Jersey City residents and people from around the state are calling on Governor Chris Christie to support EPA's carbon standards. "Last night's attendees have been calling the Governor's office all day to tell him to take action on climate change for New Jersey."
The new safeguards will not only protect health and communities nationwide, but also spur innovation and strengthen the economy. Guhl says they will continue to call on officials to take action on climate and invest in clean energy because it will create tens of thousands of local jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in New Jersey.
By Javier Sierra
Very close to the city of Delano, CA, where Cesar Chavez conducted a great deal of his work for justice, it reeks of injustice.
In Wasco —in the San Joaquin Valley where tens of thousands of farm workers toil— a local ordinance has approved the expansion of a railroad coal depot right next to an overwhelmingly Latino barrio.
Every year, the terminal would receive 1.5 million tons of coal to run a proposed coal-powered plant known as Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) in the neighboring Kern County. The terminal would further poison what already is the country’s worst air quality. The proposed terminal lies right next to a barrio housing some 220 Latino farm-working families who were never notified of the project.
“Industries take advantage of the most vulnerable, of those who can’t fight back,” says Ana Martinez, an organizer of Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, who works to mobilize the community against the expansion. “We already have the worst air in the country. And the air in the barrios is worse than the air in the white neighborhoods.”
During the Wasco project hearings, there were no Spanish-language announcements, and therefore no Latino residents attended the proceedings.
“This was done in typical fashion to keep the victims unaware of what was going on. This exclusion is racism,” she denounces.
The project would exponentially increase the diesel pollution from trains and the relentless truck traffic hauling the coal from the Wasco terminal to the plant. Even without the expansion in place, the already existing smog and potentially deadly particulate matter pollution is costing over $2 billion in health costs to the residents of Kern County.
Also, the coal would arrive from New Mexico in open railroad cars. This would translate in the loss of some 500 pounds of coal dust per trip and car, a dust loaded with mercury, arsenic, chromium and other heavy metals that would end up in lungs and crops.
“Not even the farm owners support this project because they fear the coal dust would ruin their crops,” says Martinez. “This agreement between farm owners and workers is very unusual.”
A comparative study of the air quality in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, where Wasco lies, and China, the country with the worst air quality on the planet, illustrates the severity of the pollution problem.
In a three-week period during December and January, the air in the valley was worse than that in China 2/3 of the days, and never, in those three weeks, did the Valley’s air quality reach the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization.
The Wasco City Council, however, approved the expansion in March without having conducted any health or environmental impact assessments. A month later, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the City Council to stop the expansion.
“Enough is enough!” says Martinez. “Injustice happens in communities of low income and communities of color. These industries need to put people’s health first and then profits.”
Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to fight injustice, to protect the most vulnerable. Ana Martinez is following his steps and has committed herself to clean this air of injustice.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Sierra Club members from coast to coast joined with their fellow citizens, allied organizations, and elected officials last week in celebrating the Obama EPA's first-ever national protections against carbon pollution from existing power plants. We'll let the following accounts serve as a representative sample.
In the president's hometown of Chicago, the Sierra Club took the lead in organizing a rally and press conference, above, that brought more than 200 people together in support of the new pollution standards. A coalition of more than 25 partner organizations helped out in some capacity for the event.
Speakers included Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Congressmen Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush, and Robin Kelly, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Citizen's Utility Board executive director Dave Kolata, business community sustainability director Dan Probst, and 2013 Goldman Prize winner & community activist Kimberly Wasserman. That's Wasserman below, speaking.
"All the speakers outlined the impacts of climate change already facing Illinois, applauded the Obama administration for leading on this critical issue, and pledged a strong and just implementation plan for our state," said Chicago-based Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli. "We also secured supportive press statements from key elected officials, including Governor Quinn.
Below, Attorney General Madigan addresses the crowd.
"Team Illinois has been building for this roll-out since the beginning of the year," Nannicelli said. "We led Illinois Climate Coordination Table discussions for several months that brought together over two dozen diverse organizations to build support for the new standards and ensure their strong implementation in Illinois."
The Sierra Club also put together "satellite" press conferences in Peoria, above and below, and Champaign. "We focused on voices from the agriculture and faith communities," said Club organizer Kady McFadden.
"The idea that you have to pollute to preserve jobs is blatantly false," said farmer Keith Bolin at the Peoria press conference. "As farmers, we need healthy air, water, and soil. Climate change puts all those things at risk."
The Club also held a workshop in Chicago to help more than 50 people prepare public comments in support of the new standards.
A thousand miles to the west, Colorado Beyond Coal campaign organizer Bryce Carter reports that the Sierra Club helped the Climate Action Coalition turn out about 100 people to a press conference and rally, below, in the newly renovated Alliance Center Building in downtown Denver across the street from the regional EPA headquarters.
A model for green building, the Alliance Center Building has cut its water use by 84 percent and electric lighting consumption by half.
Speakers included Latina activist Kendra Sandoval, below at right, who spoke about the disproportionate impacts of climate disruption on communities of color; Gregg Thomas of the Denver Department of Environmental Health, who spoke about the positive health impacts of the new carbon standards; and Jeff Hohenese of the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, who outlined the efficiency gains the Alliance Center Building has made to achieve LEED platinum status.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis, the Club's Minnesota Beyond Coal campaign released this video in response to the announcement of the new carbon standards. The footage was taken at a Climate Justice forum sponsored by the Sierra Club and Green for All on May 15. Minneapolis-based environmental justice organizer was the Club's point person for the event, and colleague Alexis Boxer helped capture the personal stories highlighted in the video. (Click on the image below to watch the two-minute video.)
Sierra Club spokespeople were quoted in some 300 media clips covering the EPA's announcement of the new carbon pollution protections.
R emarkable things happen when dedicated people working on one cause get a chance to talk shop with dedicated people working on another cause. They not only discover that stories and strategies are similar, but also that seemingly distinct issues share common ground when it comes to questions of equity.
I witnessed this as one of the facilitators at a recent workshop coordinated by Groundwork Portland and the Sierra Club at the Center for Intercultural Organizing. Thirty-five activists from groups such as Right to Dream Too and Right to Survive, Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC), and the Sierra Club gathered to exchange ideas about community organizing.
Covering the philosophical as well as the tactical, houseless advocates shared power maps with campaigners from Beyond Coal. Representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility and the PHCC modeled how to move decision makers with story-based testimony. People from diverse backgrounds and experiences talked about how to reach out to allies, engage neighbors in conversation, and build relationships that ultimately can help build a movement.
Cassie Cohen, executive director of Groundwork Portland, said the idea for the workshop grew out of a practical need to help the many groups that are working to clean up Portland Harbor and prepare for upcoming Environmental Protection Agency hearings.
"Although people have been working on this issue for a long time, the Coalition itself is new, so the training seemed like a good way to help people coalesce around the campaign in addition to building skills," explained Cohen.
Cohen and co-organizer Laura Stevens, of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, invited Steve Goldstein, Cesia Kerns, and Diana Pei-Wu to facilitate sessions on relationship-building, power mapping, and story-telling. The co-organizers quickly saw the opportunity to open up the event to help cross-pollinate and create a more dynamic learning environment.
"There is so much knowledge out there in the community, but we tend to keep focused on just our issues," Stevens explained. "We hoped people would walk away with some practical strategies and also have a chance to network with people they might not meet otherwise."
Reaching out across issues, participants rediscovered the uniting principle of equity work: to help all people have happy, productive lives in a healthy environment. They also found new energy and inspiration for their work. Activist Les Shannon said, "The event was nourishment for my spirit."
That was the ultimate goal of the workshop, to help participants tap into their individual and collective power for change. In the process, people started to break down silos and form alliances based not just on joint strategies but on a comprehensive vision for equity. As we tackle some of the most complex and daunting problems that any generation has had to face, this is the kind of leadership that Oregon needs now. As progressives we need to find more ways to promote it.
-- Mary Fifield, Sierra Club Oregon executive committee
In conjunction with Asthma Awareness Month, on the last day of May the Sierra Club and the Muskogee Clean City Coalition sponsored an asthma awareness event in Muskogee, Oklahoma, home to the state's oldest, largest, and dirtiest coal plant, owned and operated by Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E). The Club's Beyond Coal Campaign has been working for the past four years to retire the Muskogee Generating Station and get OG&E to move away from fossil fuels toward clean energy.
Between 75 and 100 people turned out for the event in Robison Park in southwest Muskogee. Sierra Club volunteers set up booths and tables offering information about asthma, air quality, and opportunities to help combat pollution in the city and in Muskogee County.
Local vendors provided food, local musicians provided entertainment, and members of a local Boy Scout troop talked about their involvement with the Clean City Coalition, of which the Sierra Club is a part. That's Charley Walton, high school senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 627, above at microphone.
"The Muskogee Clean City Coalition is a growing group of area residents concerned about air and water quality," says Oklahoma-based Sierra Club organizer Whitney Pearson, at left, the Club's lead organizer for the event. "This occasion was about fun, education, and building the coalition's membership. We've been working over the past several years to develop relationships with local residents and organizations who want to clean up the air and improve water quality in Muskogee."
Locals don't just suffer from pollution from the coal plant, Pearson says. "There are numerous industrial facilities in the city of Muskogee and Muskogee County compounding the problem. More than 6,500 people in the county suffer from asthma, including 1,500 children."
At the May 31 event, Sierra Club volunteers gathered signatures petitioning OK&G and other polluters to clean up their act. Petitions were also sent to elected officials and other local leaders. That's Muskogee City Council Member Ivory Vann, above at right, sporting a Sierra Club Beyond Coal t-shirt.
"We want polluters to know what they're supposed to be doing to reduce their emissions, and let local decision-makers know that people out there are concerned," Pearson says. "We know that polluters heard out message, and this event was a great building block toward creating a strong, sustainable coalition of people who want to work on cleaning up Muskogee."
Pearson gives kudos to Sierra Club colleague and "logistics guru" Shelly Campbell, deputy press secretary Jenna Garland, regional online organizer Andy Wilson, "and of course all the volunteers who made this event such a success."
Steve Pawlowski, Arizona Water Sentinels coordinator for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, died yesterday while waiting to testify at the state Capitol in Phoenix. He collapsed while standing in line to speak at a hearing organized by U.S. Representatives Paul Gosar and David Schweikert.
Above and below, Pawlowski doing water-quality testing on Arizona's Verde River with students from a local community college.
Among the many Arizona waterways Pawlowski worked to protect is the San Pedro River, the last major, free-flowing undammed river in the American Southwest, and considered one of the most important riparian areas in the country. The San Pedro is of major ecological importance as it hosts two-thirds of the avian diversity in the U.S., including 100 species of breeding birds and 300 species of migrating birds.
"We cannot think of a kinder person than Steve," says close friend and Grand Canyon Chapter director Sandy Bahr. "He helped people and our environment. He was knowledgeable about water and other environmental issues and passionate about Arizona's rivers. Steve was dedicated to making this a better world -- and he did. He led our Arizona Water Sentinels for the past five years where he developed a strong and dedicated team of volunteers to protect our rivers. He was also an accomplished musician. Our hearts go out to his family, to his wife Jeannie and daughter Sarah. He was a good friend to us and to our environment. We will miss him immensely."
In recent days, eight states came together to release a 'Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan;' it fleshes out their governors' commitment last fall to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get 3.3 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2025.
Making up 28 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maryland will "drive economies of scale, lowering prices and creating more options for consumers," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in response to the action plan. He continued, "When it comes to fighting climate disruption, EVs are where the rubber hits the road."
The action plan, promoted by a number of government, environmental, and public health groups in the news and social media, reads like a celebration of EV programs already making a difference on the ground. For example:
- In Rhode Island all new state vehicle purchases will be electrics or hybrids wherever possible.
- California Governor Jerry Brown met with 40 Fortune 500 executives to announce corporate commitments to PEV workplace charging.
- The West Coast Electric Highway has developed a network of charging stations that will provide charging from Canada to Mexico.
- The Maryland Public Service Commission has created a ‘time of use’ utility pilot program designed to incentivize off-peak charging.
- Massachusetts has announced a new EV rebate program, to start this summer, that will slice $1,500-2,500 off the purchase or lease of any plug-in vehicle.
The plan lays out 11 types of actions that it recommends for state government –in conjunction with other partners. These include everything from consumer incentives to government fleets, from workplace charging to EV marketing and availability. I encourage you to check out the plan. It's chock full of great examples and recommendations. It also has some compelling factoids, like a study showing that EV drivers are more satisfied with their vehicles than conventional vehicle owners. Additionally, the document shows, the five-year cost of ownership of a typical EV is actually thousands of dollars less than that of a conventional vehicle.
But I think this action plan begs some important questions. If we can't put our all into each and every one of the dozens of action items and recommendations, what are the most effective types of programs and strategies that will most rapidly escalate EV sales in the years to come? What are the pieces of low and medium-hanging fruit, and how does that vary by location? What are the most important studies that show what strategies are working best?
The Sierra Club will be evaluating questions like these in the coming months so we can determine how to best scale up our electric vehicles advocacy and outreach work around the country - and in turn work with these eight states and others to successfully implement this exciting ZEV action plan. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you: What have you found to be the most successful EV programs in your area? What do you think is most needed? What studies do you think best point to important lessons learned in the plug-in electric vehicles market thus far?
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.
But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.
This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.
It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.
For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.
Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
On Thursday more than 40 Marylanders rallied in Baltimore's Carroll Park before deliverying 2,000 comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment supporting the agency's proposed clean air standards.
Standing in front of a 20-foot inflatable asthma inhaler, state, city, and local officials joined the Maryland Sierra Club activists and other residents in congratulating the MDE while also encouraging them to be even tougher on coal plant pollution.
"I am here today to tell the Maryland Department of the Environment that people like me need you to move forward with strong, limits on pollution from Maryland's coal-fired power plants," said Doris Toles a Baltimore City resident suffering from asthma and COPD who spoke at the rally. "There are many who have died from asthma. I have lost family and friends."
Some rally-goers brought babies in strollers, others carried signs, and many wore air masks to show just how important clean air is in the Old Line State. More than five million Marylanders live in areas that fail to meet air quality safeguards, including Baltimore, which suffers from some of the worst air and highest asthma rates in the nation.
Maryland's coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 40 percent of all dangerous sulfur dioxide emissions in the state. These plants are also a significant contributor to smog pollution in the state. Smog causes a host of adverse health impacts including inducing asthma attacks in asthmatics and aggravating chronic lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. IIts impacts are most harmful to sensitive populations including children and the elderly.
"MDE has a chance to clean up our air while saving lives and money," said Josh Tulkin, Director of the Maryland Chapter of Sierra Club. "These new clean air protections will ensure that folks across the state can breathe a little easier. We're proud to support the administration in its efforts to make it happen."
Last October, MDE initiated a "stakeholder process" to address air pollution from coal fired power plants. The Sierra Club has worked closely with MDE through their stakeholder process. MDE's safeguards would reduce dangerous emissions of sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxides from sources including two outdated Baltimore-area coal plants.
For residents like Doris Toles and thousands of others, clean air standards and cleaning up coal plant pollution are a matter of life and death.
"Please help by moving forward with strong protections that will ensure that Maryland’s coal-fired power plants are as clean as possible," said Toles. "Cleaning up pollution from coal plants helps people like me stay alive."
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Senior Content Producer, Baltimore resident, and mom of that cute kid pictured above.
By Briana Okyere
Joy Mayfield has been with the Nashville Inner City Outings program since its inception in 2007, and has watched the program cultivate an appreciation for the environment in the minds of the youth in her community.
"I had looked into starting an Inner City Outings (ICO) program here in Nashville in around 1998, but I couldn't find enough people at that time willing to volunteer to be leaders," the longtime Sierra Club volunteer leader recalls. "Then, to my delight, in 2007 two young ladies in the Sierra Club's Middle Tennessee Group decided to start an ICO program here, and knowing I was already a certified outings leader, asked if I would join them. They also knew I had customized some local outings specifically for families so children could be included."
Joy loves the outdoors, and enjoys exposing nature's intricacies to children who might not otherwise readily have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors. "Working with ICO, I get to be a kid again, exploring the wonders of the natural world. We adults take life so seriously. Sometimes we forget to play and have fun."
Above, Joy with good friend and Nashville ICO chair Craig Jervis. Below, young ICO participants gardening at a local historic site.
It is Joy's mission to share her love of the environment with the youth of Nashville. Sometimes it's not the easiest thing to do.
"I remember one hot, sticky, humid day in the summer of 2010, we took a group of youth from a new agency we were working with to Beaman Park," she recalls." My co-leader was my friend Betsy Garber, the chair of Nashville ICO at the time. We were the only adults on the trip aside from the bus driver. Five very big -- as in football linebacker big -- sullen-appearing 16-to-18-year-olds got off the bus. They were not smiling, and they looked Betsy and me up and down in an almost threatening way.
"I remember Betsy leaning over to me as we began the hike and whispering, 'remember, they're just big kids.' We proceeded to hike the two-mile loop trail, pointing out edible plants, wildflowers, birds, and insects, encouraging them to touch and feel, to listen to the sounds of the forest, to immerse themselves in the quiet. Suddenly the interaction began. We took a dogleg down to Henry's Creek and let these young men remove their shoes and explore the stream barefooted and just play in the clear, cool water."
Something transformative happened down there in that stream that day, Joy says. "I realized Betsy was correct in her assessment: These were just big kids. Their entire demeanor changed in this peaceful, woodland setting. We watched their defensive posture change. They became light-hearted, talkative, and animated. They became little kids again."
Despite her trepidation at the start of the trip, Joy remains exuberant about its aftermath. "Shortly thereafter when we contacted the agency for follow-up, we were stunned to discover that all the teens we took hiking had previously been in some kind of trouble with the law. The agency disclosed that their mission was to afford children in trouble a temporary, structured, and safe residence where they could learn new, positive life skills as they transitioned from juvenile detention to independence."
Joy gets a deep satisfaction from being able to lend a hand to juvenile youth's reintroduction into society. "I have one photograph from that trip that I use sometimes to keep myself pumped," she says. "Whenever I look at that photograph I remember why it is we do what we do in ICO."
For Joy, ICO does more than just expose youth to the outdoors -- the program and its volunteers instill a deep connectedness with nature. It is this connection, she believes, that encourages a personal ethic of environmental stewardship. "Children of today have many environmental issues that they will have to confront as adults -- the leftover mess created by their predecessors."
It is the mission of volunteers like Joy to prepare today's youth for the environmental issues they will face tomorrow. "The more we can get children outdoors, the more they will engage in the natural world and want to preserve it," she says. "This is my belief, and I have certainly seen it happen time and time again -- even with my own sons!"
Briana Okyere is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.
Last Saturday, 5,000 Americans gathered in numbers large and small in 100 communities in 43 states across the nation for a National Day of Action to not only say No to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, but to all dirty fuels.
Three weeks ago, 5,000 citizens rallied in Washington, D.C., to urge the President Obama to reject KXL. This time people turned out in their own communities. Whether it's offshore drilling, seismic testing, mountaintop removal coal mining, dangerous tar sands pipelines, fracking, exporting liquid natural gas, or shipping crude by rail through our hometowns, we all have reason to be concerned -- for the health of our families and the health of the planet.
America is under an unprecedented assault from Big Oil today. So on May 17, Sierrans and activists with dozens of partner organizations took action against the continental and global threat of the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as the many other ways in which fossil fuels now threaten their communities.
This National Day of Action against all dirty fuels was organized with help from Surfrider, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and 350.org. But it was Sierra Club volunteers and staff who led the way in doing the lion's share of organizing on the national and local level, with Beyond Oil and Our Wild America campaign staff engaged wherever they could.
A similar event known as Hands Across the Sand, also co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, started in 2010 when Americans from coast to coast joined Gulf Coast residents in expressing alarm and outrage at the impact of offshore oil on the Gulf of Mexico during the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Since then, as utilities have begun to move beyond coal, Big Oil has expanded from drilling in the Gulf to an unprecedented new assault on every region of America.
A few highlights from across the fruited plain last Saturday:
Hands were joined across the sands of 20 Florida beaches, and seven in California, with turnouts of 200 or more at St. Pete Beach and Indian Rocks Beach on Tampa Bay, at Miami Beach, and in Kailua, Hawaii.
Residents of other coastal states, including Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey, were joined by activists from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi in protesting the imminent threat that seismic testing poses to hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins -- a sacrifice oil companies are willing to make in order to find new sites for drilling off the Atlantic coast.
Inland events focused more on the central theme of rejecting the KXL pipeline. The largest event in the nation was in Omaha, where 231 people faced the Missouri River to join hands across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge between Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. "The bridge is over the river, and we're making the point that we want to protect our water," said local organizer Margaret Mainelli.
North Star (Minnesota) Chapter members stood with MN 350 and Organizing for Action Against Climate Change activists against the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline, joining hands across the Mississippi River on a bridge linking Minneapolis with St. Paul.
Illinois Chapter activists connected with Sierra's Northwest Indiana Group at a rally at the Lake Michigan site of the BP tar sands refinery that a few weeks earlier had dumped oil into Lake Michigan, Chicago's water supply.
Days after an oil pipeline rupture put a Los Angeles neighborhood waist deep in oil, the Sierra Club's Angeles Chapter worked with other members of the SoCal Climate Action Coalition 350 to organize a bi-lingual community workshop in a largely Hispanic community already beset by poor air quality from drilling and fracking, now facing a new threat of tar sand oil being shipped out of the port at Wilmington via a new pipeline through this community under siege by Big Oil.
A similar threat up the coast in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Valero Benicia Refinery has proposed transporting crude oil by rail tanker cars, was met by a Refinery Corridor Healing Walk at the port town of Martinez, the second in a series of such events. Across the nation in Portland, Maine, the threat of tar sands oil being shipped out through this harbor turned out 100 on a rainy day to speak up for protecting Maine's pristine lakes, rivers and bays.
In Florida, where anti-drilling activists held their fifth annual Hands Across the Sand events, the focus expanded from offshore drilling to a call for moving America's most oil-dependent state beyond oil through investing in the cleaner transit options it so sorely lacks. Two hundred citizens gathered on one of America's most popular beach destinations, St. Pete Beach, to link dirty fuels to a call for support of this November's biggest transit referendum, Greenlight Pinellas -- the most powerful thing that can be done to reduce the Tampa Bay Area's demand for the oil that continues to threaten the state's beach-tourism-based economy.
All over America, in nearly every state, Sierrans rallied with their neighbors to call for freedom from the tyranny of fossil fuels that now threatens our lakes, rivers, beaches, water, and air, and to protect the world from rising sea levels and the impact of rising temperatures. The momentum against Big Oil has turned in our favor, even as the industry's reach widens to attack us all. On Saturday, Sierra Club members stood up to Big Oil. Let's keep up the fight.
The first week of May, the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Minnesota team turned up the heat on utilities Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power, taking them to task for their coal pollution and presenting them with a bill for damages to public health.
Below at left, Xcel's "bill" on its way to being presented at the company's headquarters in Minneapolis.
Activists filed comments with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on their state implementation plan for soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and ozone. The comments included "plume maps" for sulfur dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants the Sierra Club has targeted as especially egregious polluters, showing how pollution exceeds national air-quality standards. Even short exposures to peak levels of sulfur dioxide in the air can make it difficult for people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses to breathe when they are active outdoors.
Club volunteers and staff worked together to collect public comments on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's docket on updating the cost estimates for "externalities" (side effects) that utilities use in making energy decisions.
They then held media events in Minneapolis, above, and Duluth, below, where they delivered the "bills" for the costs of pollution from Xcel Energy's and Minnesota Power's coal plants.
The costs were recommended in a 2013 study -- Health & Environmental Costs of Electricity Generation in Minnesota -- the Sierra Club used to successfully open a docket at the Minnesota PUC to update cost estimates that were nearly 20 years out of date.
Below, the "bills"that were presented to Minnesota Power and Excel Energy, respectively.
The media events in Minneapolis and Duluth were followed by email and social media outreach in each utility's service area, and Beyond Coal activists submitted comments to the PUC docket on the true costs of pollution from coal plants in Minnesota. Below, the Sierra Club's "True Cost of Coal Pollution" infographic, for both Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power.
On May 15, the Beyond Coal Minnesota team presented videotaped personal stories at a Climate Justice Now community forum in Minneapolis, documenting how pollution is affecting public health in the state. The forum, organized by the Sierra Club and Green For All, focused on how communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate disruption.
Minneapolis-based Sierra Club organizer Michelle Rosier gives a shout-out to fellow organizers Alexis Boxer, Jessica Tritsch, and Karen Monahan, and volunteers Sunny Leung, Julie Drennan, Priyanka Zylstra, "and all the other volunteers who made the 'bill' deliveries happen -- and special Kudos to Alexis Boxer for dreaming up the bill idea."
The Better Housing Coalition's Somanath Senior Apartments in Richmond. Photo by the Better Housing Coalition.
By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair
If you think of "green" homes and solar panels as luxury amenities for high-end housing, you might be surprised to learn that these are becoming standard features in low-income housing, even here in Virginia.
Buildings with added insulation, better windows, energy-saving light fixtures and Energy Star appliances translate into big savings on utility bills. This should matter to all of us, but it's especially important for low-income households. For them, lower energy bills can mean not having to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.
Reducing energy costs is equally important for low-income housing owned by the government or nonprofits. Using energy efficiency and renewable energy to lower utility bills saves the public money and makes it possible to keep rents stable.
Recognizing these benefits, the Virginia Housing Development Authority 10 years ago began to incentivize green building techniques. As a result, when government agencies and nonprofits build low-income housing in Virginia today, they make green building a priority.
Today there are more than 11,000 units of affordable housing in Virginia that are certified to EarthCraft standards, one of the strictest measures of home energy efficiency. According to Philip Agee, green building technical manager for EarthCraft Virginia, these new affordable housing units are 28 percent more efficient than homes that are built to the 2004 model housing code. Units renovated to EarthCraft standards average a 43 percent improvement in efficiency.
The Richmond-based Better Housing Coalition now builds all its low-income housing to exceed EarthCraft standards. As its website explains, "installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, energy-efficient windows and lighting, and blown cellulose insulation are standard practice for BHC homes. So, too, is the use of durable cement-board siding and tankless water heaters. Reduced energy usage means reduced utility bills for our owners and residents."
Even more striking is the inclusion of solar energy in recent projects. Many of the Better Housing Coalition's buildings include solar PV panels for electricity and solar thermal systems for hot water. Last year the Better Housing Coalition built the first net-zero-energy apartments for low-income residents, combining super-efficient construction with solar to produce as much energy as residents consume.
Another leader in the solar movement is Community Housing Partners, a nonprofit organization that designs and builds low-income housing throughout the Southeast. It has worked with Virginia Supportive Housing to include solar panels on at least four of its recent projects, each system sized to provide 20 percent of the building's electricity.
The Heron's Landing apartments in Chesapeake include both 61 kilowatts of solar PV and a 13-kilowatt solar thermal array to supply hot water to the 60-unit complex designed for formerly homeless residents. Across the state in Charlottesville, The Crossings includes 33 kilowatts of solar PV and a 76-kilowattt solar thermal system for 62 units serving homeless and low-income residents. Both projects used Charlottesville-based AltEnergy as the solar contractor, supporting solar jobs in state. Paul Risberg, AltEnergy's CEO, says his firm is currently working on two more Virginia projects.
Solar systems are also part of the Community Housing Partners' developments in Richmond (Studios at South Richmond) and Portsmouth (the attractive South Bay Apartments). Now, like the Better Housing Coalition, the organization plans to take the next step, making its latest housing development for low-income seniors in Christiansburg net-zero.
Municipalities, too, are working solar into their plans for low-income housing. Last year the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority worked with Staunton-based Secure Futures LLC to install solar on its Polly Lineweaver apartment building, which serves elderly and disabled residents. According to a local television report, the contract will save the authority money over time and help keep rents stable.
Building green is proving such a money-saver for low-income housing that it's a shame Virginia isn't applying this lesson more widely. The state's failure last year to adopt the 2012 model building code standards means that even buyers of brand-new homes won't be guaranteed the level of quality built into these low-income apartments. Let's hope the administration of Governor Terry McAuliffe takes note and changes course.