Bailing by the Thimbleful

antique-thimble-0808-lg-9681196My world is almost entirely structured around climate activism these days, from engaging with other local activists to hold our elected officials to account for their pledges – the Southeast Florida Climate Action Compact – to planning Transition Monthly Meetings, to tending a community garden whose crop will be donated to feed hungry people. And I am putting in a fraction of the time some of my colleagues are devoting in groups like the Climate Action Coalition, Organizing for Action, and EcoArt South Florida, to name three. They are the true patron saints of sustainability, in the ecological sense. And yet it’s not enough given the math stacked up against us, and possibly short of the real target.

 “There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens.”

Fix that, and many other issues will be resolved, argues Harvard professor, legal scholar, and Beltway bête noir, Lawrence Lessig. He makes this point in an electrifying TED Talk and a follow up book (published by TED) called Lesterland. Hint: the Lesters are the 1%; the USA is Lesterland. Right now, you can purchase the ebook for $1.99, and I encourage you to do so, share it, and maybe create a book group around it.

As if we needed any more reminders of how broken our democracy is, how corrupted government has become by money, Saturday’s New York Times published this: Energy Firms in Secret Alliance With Attorneys General. It was the most emailed article through the weekend and has drawn 1594 comments to date. This one by Richard Watt of Pleasantville, NY, was the most “Recommended.”

“I should not be surprised, but I must say I was shocked when I read this article. These attorneys general should be impeached and removed for the sale of their offices and the people* behind these letter[s] should also be prosecuted.”

But this morning, the article was no longer in the top ten. So I have to agree with the second most Liked comment, that of S.R. Simon of Bala Cynwyd, PA: This is how democracies die: behind closed doors. And I might add, inside minds that shut down when the facts become too awful to contemplate.

If you’ve been working on sea level rise (SLR), to pick the environmental blowback that will likely cripple the economy in Florida, you know how challenging it is to chin up and keep bailing, if only by the thimbleful.  And yet, bail we must, because the alternative is even worse.

Take the Ag Reserve, a parcel of land once considered ‘safe’ from developers because it is so important to our agricultural economy, and now back on the bargaining table.  Yes, attend the meetings and send in statements. Go demonstrate to protect the Briger Forest from the Scripps juggernaut. Raise funds for Florida Earth Day 2015 and to commission environmental artist, Eve Mosher (HighWaterLine), to do for Delray Beach what she did for Brooklyn and, more recently, Bristol, UK – show graphically on the roads and buildings what SLR looks like in our communities. It’s as good as it gets, and we have to do whatever we can to support these actions. But let’s not kid ourselves that meaningful change is possible when money has the upper hand

OK, here’s some good news, sort of. As Professor Lessig points out, this is not a Left vs. Right, Red vs. Blue, Treehugger vs. Denialist issue. It is clearly a Beltway insider vs. the rest of us issue, and on that you may find agreement in surprising places.  Of course, using campaign contributions to buy yourself, say, an ambassadorship, is nothing new and long the prerogative of presidents. Here’s The Palm Beach Post’s ever wry columnist, Frank Cerabino:

“You can be America’s ambassador to Argentina and not speak Spanish…President Barack Obama nominated Noah Mamet, a California political consultant, to become America’s next ambassador to Argentina, and the Senate confirmed that nomination on a party-line vote…Mamet doesn’t speak Spanish, and he had never visited Argentina. But he did orchestrate a $1.4 million bundle of donations to Obama’s re-election campaign two years ago.”

Not pretty, but compared to what’s going down now, this is chump change.

Larry Lessig is looking for 300,000 engaged citizens, no matter which issue
stirs our passion most, to join his organization, Rootstrikers. Whether or not you feel inspired to do so, you will find it packed with information you won’t find elsewhere, e.g. why Citizens United is the ‘tip of the iceberg.” If Rootstrikers feels like the best way to strengthen your citizen muscle — and boy, could we all use that! — choose from a range of campaigns to join – supporting Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is my mine.   Could citizen-funded elections also eliminate the endless election season we currently endure? That would most certainly get my vote.

More on H.R. 20

A Short History on Long Campaigns 

* Big energy interests

#fastfortheclimate

fastfortheclimateI’m no stranger to fasting since my daughter introduced me to The Master Cleanse years ago, and it still feels like a good way to balance the excesses of holiday celebrations.  But this is the first time I’m fasting as an act of solidarity with climate activism, specifically with the massive international fast in conjunction with the Lima Climate Change Conference that opens today and runs until December 12.  So, if you are just hearing about this for the first time (and I hope not), it’s not too late to shed a pound for a good cause.  My tribe of activists just got bigger and more diverse as soon as I took the pledge and checked out the pages of  http://fastfortheclimate.org/en/:  bishops, CEOs of NGOs, activists, TV chefs, musicians, UN officials, and negotiators from around the world (though not to date Yeb Sano, the young Filipino diplomat whose emotional presentation at the 2013 Warsaw climate talks, and subsequent two week hunger strike, inspired this movement.)

Astonishingly, the comment section of fastfortheclimate.org has an outsized number of enraged comments from the denial crowd, most of which fall into the ‘protest too much’ category and lead me to hope that the evidence of climate change is beginning to hit home.  I even got some flak from a foodie member of my family when I posted my intention for the day on social media.  Eating is itself a political act no matter where you stand intellectually on climate science. Just ask anyone attempting to prepare a Thanksgiving meal that will please everyone.  Free-range or tofurky?  It seems that too many of us Americans hate and resist any suggestion that we must change our own habits.  This made a best-seller of Who Moved My Cheese? and explains why diets usually fail, and more importantly, why we continue to live with the devils we know: money-corrupted politics and dysfunctional government (a topic I’ll be blogging about as soon as I finish reading Lesterland).

Well, as anyone who has tried fasting for any reason knows, as the first day of your fast wears on, you realize just how much time you are saving not preparing and consuming food, let alone thinking about it.  This can feel almost liberating. Even if you are not taking solid food, you must keep yourself hydrated — lemon water and herbal teas for me — and you may actually start to enjoy the experience of some lightness of mind and body.  Not to mention how ambrosial the first bite of solid food tastes!  Fasting, like dieting, does interfere with the social aspect of eating, which is not a small thing in a household where a favorite word is ‘lunch.’  Of course, most of us climate fasters are doing this for one day, although some intend to extend it to the first day of every month (no promises). It is a far cry from famous individuals like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez who effectively used the extended hunger strike as a form of nonviolent activism and changed the course of history for the better.  To them, and to my fellow December 1 fasters — may our numbers increase —  I raise my cup of mint tea.

More links:

http://fastfortheclimate.org/normal-post/fast-for-the-climate-with-us-on-1-december/

https://www.facebook.com/fastfortheclimate

http://kitchencounterculture121.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/fast-for-the-climate-1st-of-december/

Raising Fields: What History Can Teach Us

When you come in for a landing at Palm Beach International, you pass over a network of blue waterways, canals, inlets, and bays that link pastel buildings and homes to the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal.  In fact, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that touches my life and yours if you live and work here, is a much larger network that runs North-South, from Norfolk, Virginia to the Florida Keys, some 1,090 miles of navigable interstate.  This Blue Highway is what makes our part of the state so attractive to boat-loving vacationers and retirees alike.  It is also what puts South Florida’s future as a tourist mecca, retiree haven, and agricultural giant (second to California) at great risk from sea level rise (SLR). The experts in local government and higher education know this:

The risks from sea level rise are imminent and serious. This is not a distant problem, but one that is affecting us now and will certainly affect our children.  Sea level rise will impact millions of Americans and threaten billions of dollars of building and infrastructure. — Sea Level Rise Summit 2013

And so do the insurers and activist organizations, and all have our work cut out for us, given the denial in Tallahassee and among billionaire developers.  The latter are (for now), as one Facebook comment had it, so 20th Century.

???????????????????????????????Attorney Mitchell Chester isn’t waiting for anyone’s blessing to bring the message of SLR to whomever will hear it and act upon it. The fastest way to get up to speed on sea level rise is to visit his site SLRSouthFlorida for the latest news on the subject. It’s not good news for us coastal dwellers, but it may also represent an opportunity to save the Florida that people have loved almost to death, and to prosper in an entirely different way (and I don’t mean Waterworld).

I first heard Mitchell Chester speak at a breakout session at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium in July, sponsored by The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for the Everglades, the Oxbridge Academy and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County.  The session addressed the need for our legal and financial systems to “engage the shared emergency of sea level rise.”  Meaning, of course, that they are not doing so in any significant way.  Currently, for example, you will not find any warning about the threat of a rising sea to your property in your real estate disclosure documents.  Mortgage documents also reflect the same myopia.

Last week, I heard Mr. Chester making an electrifying presentation to the Climate Action Coalition meeting about his idea to save the billion dollar South Florida agriculture, “some of the best growing fields in the U.S.”  He was here, he said, “to bring reality to the recommendations” of adaptation and mitigation contained in the South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan.  Without action, our ability to grow 250 food crops (and feed the country) could end “as soon as the second term of the incoming American president.”  Whoa!  That’s within 10 years.

In a nutshell: “For [Florida’s] agriculture, it’s either up or out.” As he pointed out, the strategy of containing the sea by building up the land is nothing new. The Dutch have been doing it for centuries, and are still the masters of their dike-and-windmill system in modern times.  The Maya and Aztec also created farm lands on human-made mounds and managed excess water with canals, according to Raising Fields, the website created by Mitchell Chester to educate and make a case for adaptation of this kind.

While the ocean will advance and someday cover Southeast Florida, the use of mound farming and elevated agricultural strategies will serve to extend the life of valuable rural properties and precious growing fields.

For us South Florida residents, it could be an idea whose time has come.  And, as if to anticipate the drum beat about jobs gained or lost that plays through every political discussion, this proposal has an answer.  To build a new agriculture for a wetter, water-logged South Florida — and continue to feed all those urbanites who rely on farmers they’ll never meet — it will be everybody in, everybody working together: engineers, economists, architects, agronomists, water experts, farmers, environmentalists, mapping experts, permitting agencies, planners at many levels. And that’s before the first shovelful of soil.

Links to help you dig in :)

SLRSouthFlorida
Raising Fields Blog  — you can back up into the main site
South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan
EPA Climate Change Adaption SE
That Sinking Feeling – NBC Report

 

 

 

Greenier Than Thou?

OK, I’ll admit that our switch from Florida Power and Light to Pear Energy, a renewable energy broker over a year ago, right after we began our lease of a Nissan Leaf, made me feel a tad smug. Competitions about one’s carbon footprint don’t seem out of line, given the state of the Planet.  Not to mention that I managed to convince a small number of friends to make the switch.

Pear Energy imageWe stuck with Pear despite accusations in social media that the company was engaged in ‘green-washing,’ because here in South Florida, there seemed to be no better choice.  The company’s move from Miami to Amherst, MA, gave me pause but it was business as usual. Here’s a link to the discussion between that convinced us we’d rather fight than switch back: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/pear-energy-how-green/ I’ve written some damage-control PR in my life, so I appreciated how Pear answered its critics:

… it is important to keep in mind that we are an independent REC seller, which is a different model than that of a local utility’s green energy program. Local utilities are established, profitable businesses that simply add REC sales into their mix of services, as one very small share of their overall operations. These established utilities do not need to generate additional revenue through REC sales because they use their profits from selling electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy to provide a tiny subsidy to their purchases of clean energy RECs. By contrast, because REC sales are one of Pear Energy’s main activities, a portion of our charges must go to supporting our staff and our business operations. So, to summarize: 100 percent of all of our business activity supports the development of green energy in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, when I received this email.

Dear Marika Stone,

Your Pear Energy account is officially closed as of November 10, 2014. As previously mentioned, Pear Energy is no longer offering our residential renewable energy service for homes and small businesses.

  • You will receive utility bills again. Please make payments directly to FPL normally. In addition, you may be receiving a verification email from your utility due to the recent changes made on your account.

Thank you again for supporting renewable energy and helping to build the green economy.

Sincerely,

The Billing Department
Pear Energy
(877) 969-7327
www.pear-energy.com

Apparently, I wasn’t the only customer who was upset at the news because today, another email arrived from Pear Energy offering us renewable energy via one of its partners, Acadia Power.  We’ll look before we leap, of course.  I won’t be surprised if there is a whole lot more of this kind of shaking out as we move toward renewables, and neither should you be.  In fact, I welcome it. Stay tuned

REC – Renewable Energy Certificates

https://www.facebook.com/PEARenergy

Gallery

Walk to the grocery store challenge

This gallery contains 35 photos.

Originally posted on Walkable West Palm Beach:
Strong Towns recently issued a challenge for its readers to walk to the grocery store. The idea is to get out of the car and experience this essential activity from a different perspective…

Symphony of the Soil, Part II

When I teamed up with fellow activists, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida and Brian Kirsch of Gray Mockingbird Community Garden, to bring Symphony of the Soil, Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, to a packed Muvico cinema in West Palm Beach last year, I had no idea that 14 months later, I would be up to my own elbows in dark, rich-with-compost soil and a new community garden.

This project, a first-of-its-kind partnership between CROS Ministries, the gleaning organization that supplies thousands of pounds of food to local food pantries, and my home congregation, 1st UU of the Palm Beaches, is itself symphonic in that it is composed of many different elements blending harmoniously.  As our minister, Rev. CJ McGregor, realized that 1st UU has plenty of well-drained open land on the congregation’s property, most of it bathed by 6-8 hours of sunlight, year round, he didn’t need much persuading to take the next logical step.  CROS Ministries brings dedication to feeding people in need, experienced volunteers, and growing knowhow.  Gleaning director, Keith Cutshall, has the patience and kindness of someone with deep practice in soil management, growing vegetables, and working with volunteers of all ages. CROS Ministries also supplied its own truck for transport of soil, mulch and other necessaries.

garden expansion1We received a gift of dark, compost-rich soil from Green Cay Farm, the life and work of Ted Winsberg, farmer, soil scientist, and local philanthropist.  Ted and his wife, Trudy, are well-known in their community of Boynton Beach as instrumental in the creation of Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center on 170 acres they sold to Palm Beach County for one-third of its appraised value in 1997, specifically for that purpose.  Ted also provided our project five sturdy wood frames for the raised beds, all built of recycled lumber on his farm.

This enabled us to follow the no-till method of raised bed growing, developed by the University of Florida Extension, originally introduced to us by the garden founder, the late Wayne Reynolds, after whom the garden is named.  In addition to saving enormous amount of labor, albeit supplied by an enthusiastic team of volunteers within the congregation, a not unimportant side benefit of the no-till method is that no heavy earth-moving equipment is needed so the surrounding area is left unscarred.   When you’re planting among established trees and shrubbery, the value of this is obvious. First, we had to determine an overall layout for the garden.  For aesthetic reasons, we decided to organize the boxes in a semi-cigarden expansion17 step 1rcle around existing vegetation, mulching around them so the whole becomes a no-mow area. Mulching on the planted areas after seeds sprout, will also help conserve water. Thanks to another generous gift, we will be investigating drip and soaker hose type irrigation. Ground cloth goes down first, right on the grass, followed by the wooden frame which helps anchor it.  Keith Cutshall had picked up the wood boxes from Green Cay Farm earlier in the week and delivered them to our site.

garden expansion 18garden expansion 20

Recycled cardboard — the kind of sturdy box-stock movers, supermarkets and liquor stores have in abundance for the asking, get split and laid over the cloth next.  This also helps keep the soil moist and the grass out of the growing area.  Soil was hand shoveled from the truck and hauled over by wheelbarrow and bucket.

You can see a little bit of our earlier experiment with cinderblock for a raised bed in the above photo.   Wood looks more attractive, but cinder block can be painted and the open areas can also be used for planting complementary herbs or marigolds to control pests without artificial additives.  Here is the sugar snap pea bed, readygarden expansion5 for the time when they need a place to climb.  Just look at the color of the soil! Seeds — pole beans, peppers, tomatoes and sugar snap peas — were also donated by Eden Organic Nursery Service, and El Sol‘s Sunshine Community Garden, already a partner of the congregation, supplied us with hardy tomato seedlings.  El Sol’s weekday hot lunch program will be the beneficiary of our harvest of fresh, locally-grown vegetables.  CROS Ministries will remain on the project, Keith assured us, their volunteers helping ours to tend the growing beds from now through harvest time, and beyond.  When the work was done for this sunny, cool Saturday, we celebrated with an ample lunch supplied by another 1st UU volunteer.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone — just another day in the life of a constantly surprised convert to the power of growing food and community.

Miami Dice

I love Miami. I love the amiable mix of cultures, the scene at Hoy Como Ayer in Little Havana, the outdoor murals of Wynwood, the new South Pointe Park, the art deco homes, the new Perez Museum, built inexplicably enough on Biscayne Bay, next to new science museum under construction. Miami is a mere 77 miles from my hometown and along the same coast, so what happens in Miami isn’t going to stay in Miami. My county may be a foot or so higher in sea level, but we share the same porous limestone, the same array of barrier islands with their luxury high rises, and the same professional climate change deniers.

The sense of carpe diem might have had as much to do with our choice of Miami as a destination to celebrate our 30th anniversary this past summer as the city’s many undeniable attractions. So, we treated ourselves to three nights at the Marriot on Biscayne Bay where the management – alerted to the occasion by a child – gave us an upgrade that included a sweeping view of the Bay, Causeway and cruise ships. To my surprise, this Marriot (as in West Palm Beach) is growing food on site for its restaurants. Lettuces, tomatoes and herbs are the edible landscaping by the pool area.

That ‘farm to table’ glimmer aside, I am worried about Miami. It is clearly failing the test in how coastal cities will need to adapt to a rising sea. The $500 million earmarked for a new pumping system for Miami Beach is already acknowledged as a mere stopgap. I am concerned about friends there who recently spent weeks and a small fortune to install stronger new windows in their ground floor condo. I fear for the stalwart efforts to forestall what appears inevitable, even if we were able to cease using fossil fuels immediately. One of these is a permaculture food forest, right in the heart of the city, designed by Deva Marcus Thompson, founder of Permaculture Miami, whose intensive at The Mounts Botanical Garden I attended this weekend. Eve Mosher’s High Waterline project to show just how high the water will rise, is another. Also, Colony1, a sustainability research center that combines art and science. Closer to home, and heart, Transition Palm Beaches.

Sunshine_State_movie_posterIt is uplifting to see smart, persistent media coverage on the climate crisis, e.g. a feisty overview of what keeps The Sunshine State from becoming a solar energy giant in a blog post from Fred Grimm in The Miami Herald last Friday: Florida Utilities Stay Shady…  While Florida denies, he writes, neighboring Georgia is preparing to add 900 megawatts of solar by 2016, thanks to an unlikely alliance between environmentalists and the Tea Party, aka, The Green Tea Party (the latter on free-market principles).  When you realize that some $12 million has been allocated by our largest utilities to fund, “on average, one lobbyist for every two [Florida] state legislators each legislative sessions between 2007 and 2013,” you know what we are up against.   The choice at the polls has never been clearer.  Or the need to rid politics of money.

On the local level, my Unitarian Universalist congregation has become a partner in the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida, joining the UU Fellowship of Boca Raton, The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, Oxbridge Academy, the local chapter of Organizing for Action, and League of Women Voters, among others. Our goal is to educate our municipalities on the risks we face as small cities and citizens, and get them to sign the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan. We hope to bring Eve Mosher’s High WaterLine to our area.  There is mounting evidence that local politics may yet do, piecemeal, for Florida what the big boys can’t, see: Pragmatism on Climate Change Trumps Politics … 

Pitch in, please, every way you can. It sure beats relocation to … Anchorage.

Read more:

High Water Line: http://grist.org/cities/street-artists-trace-against-time-and-sea-level-rise/

http://highwaterline.org/building-a-resilient-miami/

High Tide on Main Street, John Englander

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