Action 149. Stand with the Standing Rock Sioux.

Oh blog, I have been so neglectful! It was a whirlwind of a summer, but fall is truly here, as signified by the last 48 hours of non-stop rain (really, PNW, I get the point already!) and that means time to sit down and get back on track with my climate change actions.

Tonight I went to a fundraiser for the Standing Rock Sioux. The Standing Rock Sioux are in the midst of an extraordinarily long, difficult fight against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL. The DAPL aims to connect crude oil extracted from two of North Dakota’s oil production areas over 1100 miles to connections in Illinois that will link it to refineries for processing. When completed, the DAPL is expected to have the capacity to carry about 500,000 barrels of crude oil daily, about half the total production capacity of the Bakken oil formation, to connect it with refineries and markets in the Midwest and South.

While the DAPL is arguably “just linking extant product with extant markets” according to its proponents, in light of our pressing need to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground in order to meet the objectives of reducing carbon emissions and reducing climate change impacts it is clearly an action that moves us farther from these goals. In addition, the pipeline traverses the contested ground of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who are fighting this project on the grounds that that the pipeline has been built without their consent or consultation, endangers sites of archaeological value to their people, and risks contamination of their surface and groundwater resources. The case history behind these claims is incredibly complex, and stems from early actions of the federal government against the Sioux to deprive them of their lands, the legal and real ramifications of which have been hundreds of years in unfolding into a very difficult case as to whose land this really is (check out this really well-written report about this legal history in the Atlantic).

The tribe has engaged in extensive legal action trying to resolve their claims and block the pipeline. Despite a short-term injunction to stop work while the legal case was pending, most recently on Oct 10 a federal appeals court overturned this judgement and is allowing construction to proceed. However, three federal agencies,  Interior, Justice and Army,  ordered that construction stop on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next to and underneath Lake Oahe as it reviews its permitting decisions (which was summarily ignored by DAPLs owners). Most recently, multiple US Senators have called on President Obama to ask for suspend construction and require a full environmental impact statement for the project.

The tribe is not sitting by while waiting for these legal decisions to be made. They have established a semi-permanent camp from which they are protesting the DAPL, and they have been joined by tribes from all over the country- including 8 tribes here in Washington- in their efforts. More than 1500 tribal members have gathered in support of these actions in what is probably one of the largest such gatherings of multiple tribes in many decades. All over the country, people are stepping forward and traveling to the camp to show their support for the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux. Their actions are not without risk- several people have been hurt in police confrontations, and journalists have been arrested trying to report on this event, including Democracy Now!s Amy Goodman who has been charged with criminal trespassing and a documentary filmmaker who faces felony conspiracy charges for her reporting that could add up to 45 years in jail.

I am very proud that my community came together tonight to support these actions. Local artists organized an event which included wonderful food, drummers and singers from our local tribe to share their music, and an amazing array of art from artists all over the country auctioned off to raise money to support the Sioux. The solidarity shown to the Sioux from tribes and activists nationwide has been extremely heartening. I hope they are buoyed by the knowledge that a few thousand of them have many thousands more behind them working to insist that the DAPL process has been unjust, insufficient, and unfair to  many Acpeople directly affected by it, and that these projects stand in direct opposition to where we need to be going as a nation and planet if we are to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition towards a clean energy future.

Action 148. Create trashion!

This Spring I worked with a team of friends to put together our community’s first ever Trashion Show. What is a trashion show, you might ask? Its a creative celebration of the ways in which we can reuse and upcycle materials to make clothes that range from completely functional and wearable to haute couture impractical fun.

Trashion shows have been around a long time, and you can find long-running examples of these events from the east coast to the San Juans. For our show, we invited local artists, designers, and anyone with an interest in creating new fashions from upcycled, recycled, or repurposed materials. We put together a panel of local judges and awarded several prizes, and created a presentation to share during the show with more information about the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and how we as consumers can make a difference with our choices about how and where we buy clothing. We also hosted a mid-show contest in which contestants had 15 minutes to create a fashion look out of a box of diverse materials.

girls sundresses

I created a pair of matching sundresses for my daughter and her friend using chip bags sewn on to an old duvet cover as a liner. The girls created flower accessories for their hair that were made from contact lens cases, pieces of a mylar balloon, and apple sauce covers.

In creating the educational materials for our show, I was astounded to learn about the scale of impacts the fashion industry has on the environment and on climate change. Just a few of the many Trashion Facts we created for the show include:

  • In 2012 in the US, we sent 12 million tons, or 70 lbs per person, of textiles to the landfill.
  • It takes up to 2,900 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans.
  • Today’s textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases on earth.

Because this was our first ever trashion show, we had no idea what to expect in terms of audience interest, but were thrilled when we completely packed the venue! It was an incredibly fun, and informative, event and a great way to share information about the impacts of our fashion culture and how we as consumers can make a difference.

You can read more about the Trashion Show here in a wonderful blog by Beth Robson.

Action 147. Get inspired by a climate guru.

This week I had the privilege of being able to see the man I consider to be one of our greatest leaders in climate activism, Bill McKibben. Bill spoke to a packed crowd at Seattle Town Hall about his fears and hopes for our planet. Here’s the gist of his talk, in one sentence:

The World is In Big Trouble and we had better Get Serious.

Of course there was a bit more depth and breadth to it than that. First of all, McKibben keeps so much depressing information in his head it’s truly a wonder he gets out of bed every morning. There were several incredible factoids he shared with us about the ways in which climate change is reshaping our planet, from new, startling temperature records, worrying findings about how rising CO2 is causing decline in agricultural crops’ nutritional value, early snowmelt and dangerous fire conditions in Canada, to new predictions of rising sea levels that are twice previous estimates.

McKibben is worried and yes, somewhat depressed and frankly, rightfully so. He gave a lot of examples of how big our troubles are, but he also talked about some of the really bright shining points about advances in renewable energy we have made in the last few decades and particularly more recently as renewables technology costs have fallen to a fraction of their former levels. Recent trends like this: Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels  provide a lot of hope that we are, at least, moving very much  in the right direction.

McKibben’s other primary beacon of hope is the emergence of a grassroots movement that is holding our leaders accountable and taking on the fossil fuel industry directly. He feels that it is truly grassroots organizing that was behind the level of success we saw at the Paris climate talks, because large numbers of people are now starting to hold their leadership responsible, demand change, and show their willingness to fight for a better future. That last point is his key takeaway:  this is no longer an argument about climate change, because we have won the argument. There is no further time to waste on debating the reality of climate change with those few folks so out of touch with reality or deep in the pockets of fossil fuel companies that they refuse to accept the facts.  McKibben is vehemently positive that we can and will fight, because we have no choice. What we need now, what we must engage in, is an all-out fight with those who seek to enforce the status quo, in order to move us in a direction that doesn’t seriously compromise life as we know it.

McKibben closed with an exhortation to join him and activists across the country in Break Free From Fossil Fuels events, grassroots events that will continue the push towards a clean energy future. Check out opportunities all over the nation to get involved here: Break Free.

Action 146. Grease is the Word.

Oh man, that makes me think of my 6th grade jazz dance recital where I wore a red plastic jacket with a lightening bolt and danced to “Greased Lightening.” Not exactly the highlight of my performance career. LOL.

But this is not about middle school performances. This is about some serious business people- I’m talking grease! Well more accurately I’m talking biofuel and how each and every one of us can take part in the cleaner fuel revolution. No, you don’t have to drive a biodiesel car, in fact you don’t have to look any further than your kitchen for this positive action!

The CFO of our nearby biofuel producer, General Biodiesel, lives in my area and recently our waste transfer station set up one of his company’s waste food oil collection bins. Now my neighbors and I can bring our used oil and grease and have it turned into biofuel! We are one of about a dozen public collection stations in the Puget Sound area, in addition to thousands of restaurants and businesses from which General Biodiesel collects used oils.



General Biodiesel’s waste oil collection station at our local transfer station.

Why is turning used cooking oil into biodiesel a good thing for our climate? According to an EPA study cited by General Biodiesel, biodiesel refined from used cooking oil is one of the lowest carbon fuels available, with an 85% reduction in lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to conventional petroleum diesel. Even compared to many other plant-based biofuels, cooking waste oil is a better alternative compared to creating biofuel from crop plants. Corn-based ethanols by comparison have a higher price tag for production (well, before the massive ethanol subsidies, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of cornworms) and a higher carbon footprint. Biofuels are biodegradable, relatively non-toxic, and can be blended with conventional oils or used alone as biodiesel for nearly any type of diesel engine.

Also, biofuel from waste oil is reusing a waste product that would otherwise likely be trashed. You shouldn’t pour waste oil down your drain, and you have to be careful about composting it, especially in backyard compost, as high amounts of the stuff can attract pests. It’s often recommended by local governments that you put your used grease into a jar and then into your garbage to be sent to the landfill, where it takes up space in our quickly filling landfills and sits around contributing to landfill greenhouse gas emissions.  So how about at least giving it a second life by turning it back into a new energy source?

Biofuels are not without some disadvantages: biodiesel can have relatively high NOx emissions and therefore are contributors to smog. They do tend to be more expensive than conventional petroleum products, and biodiesel has somewhat lower energy content (~10% less) than standard diesel, which means you burn a bit more of it to get the same output. However, as I have discussed above, biofuels represent a better alternative to conventional petroleum products, and reusing waste vegetable oils is one of the best options out there for waste stream reuse and carbon emission reduction among the fuel sources out on the market.

Next time you fry up some chicken or wonder what to do with the remains of that bacon and egg breakfast, see if there’s a waste oil collection station near you that can give that grease a second life! Word.

Action 145. What can you and I do about the Porter Ranch disaster?

If I had more of a sense of humor about climate change, I might find the Porter Ranch/Aliso Canyon natural gas leak almost funny, in a kind of take-your-Paris-accord-and-shove-it kind of symbology from a vengeful god. As it is, I’m mainly just really pissed off.

If you haven’t yet heard about Porter Ranch, this is the massive gas leak that started in late October 2015 that is one of the largest such leaks from an underground natural gas facility in US History. Methane and odorizing chemicals have been pouring from the leaking shaft, sickening thousands of residents, causing local community upheaval, and spewing persistent and powerful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the LA Times,

In three months, one failed well at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage field has spewed more greenhouse gases than any other facility in California. At its height, the leak more than doubled the methane emissions of the entire Los Angeles Basin and surpassed what is released by all industrial activity in the state….Long after the leak stops and the foul odors vanish, the pulse of methane will remain in the atmosphere and its damage to the climate will go on.

You can learn much more over at the LA Times which has a whole section devoted to covering the many impacts of this catastrophic leak. Southern California Gas, who owns the facility, has said it will be at least the end of February before they manage to stop the leak.

For good measure, here’s an eye-popping graphic on an emissions statistic, courtesy of the LA Times:


California has 14 underground gas facilities, and both state and federal oversight is lacking regarding the safety technology, monitoring requirements, and other policies that would help keep these facilities safer from leaks. The reality is that many companies that are aware of weaknesses in their safety regulations or infrastructure will wait until regulatory agencies make them deal with it. They, like everyone else, weigh the risks and benefits of saving money and making profits, and the agencies that oversee them so far have certainly not been asking enough of them.

It is incredible how many times we have faced environmental disasters in our recent history just like this- Deepwater Horizon, Flint’s water supply debacle, the Mount Polley Tailings Dam breach are just a few that come to mind- which were probably preventable, and certainly many of the worst impacts would have been avoidable, if proper safety, monitoring and oversight had been in place. Unfortunately for Southern California Gas, the safety checks they could have put in place that would have done a lot to prevent this disaster would have been a LOT cheaper than the regulatory backlash and legal proceedings they will be facing for years to come.

So rather than sit here fuming (pun intended), what’s a non-Californian to do about a serious environmental and public health catastrophe that feels very out of reach? There are at least some things within my grasp that I can do about the immediate issue.

I can and have and will continue to call the White House repeatedly and asking why the federal government is not putting every single piece of expertise, technology and form of pressure to bear on this catastrophe.

I have also signed- you can too right at this link: the CREDO petition to President Obama essentially saying the same thing.

And, very importantly, we can start mobilizing to make sure that more gas leaks like Porter Ranch are not in our future. California legislators are rushing to propose several new laws that would increase regulations for safety, technology and monitoring to prevent future disasters like this one. Federal agencies and congress are also starting to mobilize with new plans and proposals for increasing the consistency and stringency of these regulations.

With about half a million producing natural gas wells in the US, and more than 300 underground gas storage sites, with many heavily concentrated in the midwest, you have a very good chance as a resident of any state to live in the vicinity of natural gas production, and to have a voice and a stake in the proper regulation of this industry. I will be calling my representatives to support stronger regulation that protects all of us and our climate from the type of devastation we have seen from the Porter Ranch leak. We absolutely cannot afford more of these types of disasters if we are to make progress in controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Action 144. New Year, new accord, same activism.

Its taken me a long time to come back to the blogosphere since my last post, for several reasons, the biggest of them being the Paris climate talks. I’ve really struggled- and still do struggle- with what they actually mean for us on a global and a personal level.

On the one hand, there were some incredible agreements made at the talks. 195 countries came together and actually agreed, in principal, to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And we all agreed to monitoring and reporting requirements to keep track of how we are doing.  That’s stunning. That’s a global admission that we agree climate change mitigation is a collective responsibility. I think the international community of climate activists was hoping we’d get there, but I don’t know that we fully believed it really would happen, until it did.

BUT- of course there’s a but. But the pledges we have made in this historic agreement are not binding. They are voluntary “intended nationally determined contributions” set by each country. They will not, by themselves, get us to holding the line at 1.5 C, even if every single country actually meets their target. And that’s quite frankly a shaky foundation on which to build so important an agreement. But it is at least a good starting point: as Bill McKibben said, “Paris did not save the planet… but it may perhaps have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

The pressure is still very much on all of us to accelerate and push from below to guide us as quickly as possible towards a new global energy pathway. As McKibbin also articulated, ” “Every government seems now to recognize the fossil fuel era must end, and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry.”

Even though I don’t tend to be a resolutions person, I am committing in 2016 to keep on keeping on in the fight against climate change. More than anything, what I take away from the Paris talks is that we cannot sit back and rest on the laurels of this agreement. As hard-fought and important as these talks were, they are not enough, and they risk becoming empty words if we do not work tirelessly to hold them up to the light, insist on their realization, and lift them up on the shoulders of millions of everyday activists that are engaged in a living future.


Action 143. Sending art and hope to Paris.

I have spent the last several days with a knot in my stomach about this week’s climate talks in Paris. Our international negotiations are adding up over decades of tenuous, largely non-binding, furtive bouts of negotiation and frustration over the international community’s inability to find a common path towards the drastic carbon reductions and changes in how we procure energy that we all know we must achieve. I do not think I am at all alone in my profound need to feel hopeful, while harboring a justifiably high level of skepticism given how difficult these negotiations are and how poor their history has been.

So it was with some real relief that I found a different and creative outlet for my concerns and frustrations this past week with the opportunity to make salmon lanterns for Salmon Is Life, a grassroots art project which created hundreds of lanterns shaped and painted like salmon that were sent to Paris to participate in the peaceful demonstrations and rallies to be held alongside the climate talks (to the extent possible after French authorities canceled the massive organized demonstrations that were planned due to fears following the horrible attacks in Paris a few weeks ago — I’d go further down that rabbit hole of the connections between terrorism and climate change, but I’m depressed enough so right now I’m just not going to) .

Denise Hendrikson, an amazing community artist from Seattle (you can read more about her actions here), and Deb D’Angelo, a local environmental activist, hosted a day-long workshop in my community to make these beautiful salmon lanterns. Denise’s creations start with a wax outline on silk that is then hand-painted and sewn into a wind-sock that is lit from inside and carries in the breeze. The lanterns are absolutely delightful, and I felt honored and privileged to participate in making a few of the hundreds of lanterns that have been sent to Paris this week.


Here is our workshop group with the beautiful salmon lanterns!

I am so thankful that I got an opportunity to do something creative and beautiful to contribute to the environmental community at the Paris talks. The salmon, with its long, complex journey that crosses ecosystems to find its way back to creation and completion of its story, could not be a better symbol for this difficult path we face. I am so excited that our salmon lanterns will travel across the ocean to bring messages of hope for progress.