Action 152. Put a LID on it.

Last weekend I spent all day at a storm water curriculum teacher training workshop. What, that’s not the most exciting thing you’ve ever heard?? OK fine, but bear with me, because this is  important and climate-related.

Storm water is a big problem here in Puget Sound. Rain that hits our streets and buildings picks up a chemical cocktail of oils, grease, dirt, metals, plastics, and various debris. All this pollution heads to our gutters and into storm drains. And just about none of it is treated before it heads straight into Puget Sound. Its estimated that about 3/4 of all the pollution in Puget Sound can be traced back to stormwater,  and it’s estimated that somewhere between 20 and 90 million pounds of toxic chemicals enter Puget Sound EVERY YEAR through stormwater.

If that doesn’t sound gross enough, visualize it with Laura James’ amazing time lapse footage of a stormwater plume from a stormwater outfall in Puget Sound. YUCK.

As if these numbers weren’t bad enough, climate change has the potential to make them worse. That’s because predictive modeling for our region suggests that rain events are going to get more severe under climate change– which puts more power behind moving pollutants from city surfaces quickly into the Sound. Combine that with our increasing rates of population growth, infrastructure, and road and facility building and, well, you can see where we are headed, and it’s not good news for the health of our waters.

To add another layer of complexity to this already difficult issue, storm water is particularly tricky because it is a non-point-source of pollution. Unlike the pollution that comes out of a factory pipe, non-point-source pollution is just that- not from any particular point,  diffuse and everywhere. Therefore, addressing it takes a lot of creativity and a lot of effort spread across a large region to meet stormwater issues where they originate and put a LID on it.

I don’t mean a literal lid. By LID, I mean Low Impact Development: a term that broadly refers to a whole suite of engineered solutions that all have at their core a common goal: to slow storm water down and allow it to re-infiltrate, reducing the volume of stormwater and the amount of pollutants that run off into the sound. LID can take many different forms: it can be as simple as a curb cut that lets stormwater run into a grassy swale so the plants can trap some of the sediment and chemicals and take up the water; or as complex as a highly engineered and carefully crafted rain garden with amended soils and plants specifically designed to handle large amounts of stormwater. LID can be placed on streets, parking lots, roofs or walls and can be scaled up or scaled down as needed. Plus, as you can see in the links in this paragraph, green or LID infrastructure can be attractive and enhance the aesthetics and even increase property values of buildings or neighborhoods if done and maintained correctly.

Fortunately, our local governments and institutions are recognizing how vital LID is to the future of managing storm water and the health of our Sound. The City of Seattle is a leader in LID infrastructure. And our federal and state construction permit systems are starting to increasingly require LID as part of stormwater management, which is driving a lot of these governmental efforts and in turn improving how stormwater is handled in new development. However, because storm water is everywhere, and because older development retrofits may be slower and more expensive, it is important to diffuse the information and technical expertise far and wide so that the public has a better understanding of the impacts of storm water and how we  all play a role in solving this problem.

That’s where the teacher training comes in. The Pacific Education Institute offers free teacher training workshops on many subjects, including an amazing curriculum all about storm water (the elementary and secondary curricula are free and available for download here) that teaches students about this issue and engages them in hands-on activities that help them research and problem-solve storm water issues at their school and in their neighborhoods. My colleague and I went to check it out to see if it’s something we can integrate into our district’s elementary curriculum. And we also were able to check out the incredible work being done on stormwater engineering and low impact development at Washington State University’s Stormwater Center in Puyallup, where the workshop was held. This campus is working on a whole range of LID research, including comparing and contrasting stormwater runoff from different kinds of pervious paving; comparing water quality runoff from roofing materials; and investigating how different soil mixes and vegetation influence water quality and treatment in raingardens. They also have researchers studying the toxic effects of stormwater on salmonids, with some really dramatic and concerning results coming to light about the lethality of stormwater on juvenile salmon.

I’m really looking forward to bringing back the ideas and curriculum we learned about to our students. There are many exciting things about this subject: opportunities to learn about principles of biology and engineering, as well as a real opportunities to empower students to make a difference through investigating stormwater issues at their school and at home. Just like climate change, this is an issue that is going to take all of us working from many different angles. Together, we can put a LID on it.

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Action 151. Join ’em to beat ’em.

The best thing I can think of to get out of my well of post-election depression is to foster connections:  basic connections with the people I love to remind me how many good people are out there, and also climate connections to connect with the fact that many, many incredible people are really out there trying to bend the arc on climate change. My first activities, after recovering from shock, have been lots of  angry and frustrated conversations with friends that have helped my heart a lot. Now, on to Phase 2: joining the climate army.

Joining the climate army can look like a lot of different things. There are many, many good groups out there working on this issue from many different angles (check out my Partners in Productivity for links to several of them). There are kids groups, social justice groups, groups that deal with climate in specific contexts like rain forest protection or pipeline opposition. Plus there are a number of new groups that are sprouting up recently to try to make connections- for example the new Washington Environmental Women’s Alliance -as folks are trying to find the intersections of issues that are important to them and coalesce around important objectives like women’s rights and climate justice. It can feel a bit overwhelming- but in a good way. There are many voices and groups that are prioritizing this issue, and their numbers are growing.

I’m still trying to figure out where my efforts should like in this landscape, but I’m doing my best to join ’em to beat ’em: trying to find effective groups that work at a grassroots level where I feel like I can really help beyond simply writing a check. Amazingly, though I write and think and act a lot on climate change, with a few exceptions I really haven’t put my effort into working closely with groups whose efforts are more concentrated on this issue. I think its time to try to take that step. So far I’ve got:

  • joining our local district’s democratic party group, so that I can add a climate change voice to the local level of party politics
  • joining Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a grassroots group that works within the political system to support climate solutions.
  • joining the Washington Environmental Women’s Alliance to work on climate-change related issues within their organization

Are you reaching out and making new connections, or talking to new people, on climate change? I welcome thoughts and suggestions. Because we’ve got to be all together on this issue. It is going to take all of us standing up and demanding our liveable future.

Action 150. Go on the offensive.

Well here we are.

 

I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

 

I feel like I have spent the last week waking up every day and thinking for the first 30 seconds- did I just dream that we installed a leader and a congress that really does threaten all of the hard-won progress we have made on climate change?

And is a racist, sexist, xenophobe unfit for the position who is carrying that hatred with him in a tidal wave of unthinkable appointments and confirmations that threatens to install a cadre of close-minded, anti-science dinosaurs into the highest branches of government?

Yes. That actually is happening.

OK. Time to breathe and think.

After I wake up, I spend a lot of time reading the news and friends’ posts about what this all means, and in particular, how on earth did this happen? And I do think its important to understand what got us here. We can talk about the rural white vote. We can talk about the huge, and valid, levels of dissatisfaction with stagnating wages and the rise of massive economic inequality in this country and the vicious, unrelenting loss of living wages and retirement benefits and health care access that has many people desperate for change. We can talk about the lack of dems voting. We can talk until we are blue in the face about whether the people who installed this guy are racist or not racist or just willing to ignore the racism because there’s an economic argument they desperately want to hear. It’s probably some of all of this.

But there is something more important to me than any of this. I want to talk about what we stand for. And I want to stop talking in terms of how what we stand for is in opposition to what Trump stands for. Recently, I got an email from a Democratic party group asking me to “stand against everything Trump stands for”, and giving me a bullet list of the things I should reject. And yes, I do stand against those things- things like racism, and sexism, and xeonophobia. But folks, here’s what I really want and I really think we need: I want to stand FOR things. This entire election campaign, I have felt constantly on the defensive: defending women against sexism. Defending immigrants against xenophobia. Defending people of color. Defending LGBTQ rights. Defending the role of science to even be part of the conversation. I cannot possibly fathom years of this- of being on defense, even though that’s something of a political reality now. But constantly being on the defense is a recipe for reactivity, depression, and feeling cornered, and healthy work does not come out of these feelings. Progress does not come out of these feelings.

Funnily enough, soon after I got that email and started thinking about how to re-frame the conversation, I got another one from a wonderful local grassroots climate group, saying this: “It is important that the climate movement does not simply go on the defensive under Trump but continues to push forward for progress!”

So let’s go on the offensive. And I mean that broadly, about all the things that are important. About women’s rights, LGBT rights, people of color’s rights, the right to a decent wage, biodiversity, access to health care, education- whatever the issue, its time to go on offense and demand what we want, not just what we don’t want.

For climate issues, here’s what I want, and here’s what I’m pledging to work for:

  • An ongoing commitment to the promises we made in the Paris Climate Treaty
  • Supporting the continued implementation of the Clean Power Plan
  • Insisting that we put people in positions of scientific leadership that have the expertise and qualifications to be in those positions
  • Preparing ourselves for climate change adaptation to known effects including sea level rise, hydrologic alterations, and ocean acidification
  • Supporting the elements of a clean energy roadmap that we cannot afford not to take, including:
    • Modernizing the electric grid
    • Expanding and funding mass transit
    • Supporting progress for building energy storage capacity
    • Supporting smart growth planning for our cities and keeps them walk-able and bike-able
    • Shifting the balance of incentives to truly renewable technologies including wind and solar

I don’t kid myself that there will be plenty of defense played in this upcoming political game of lowest common denominator in political leadership. However, I think it is incredibly important that we continue to define our goals not only in terms of what we do not want, but what we DO want and what we do envision for our future. That’s how we continue to move forward after those first 30 seconds have played themselves out. That’s how we get up every day and think positively about the future we want for ourselves and our children. Let’s do this.

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.

 

wasteoil

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.